Opera review: Long Beach Opera’s Marilyn Forever

Heidi Nye:
Culture Writer

Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff From left: Jamie Chamberlin and Danielle Marcelle Bond in Marilyn Forever.
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
From left: Jamie Chamberlin and Danielle Marcelle Bond in Marilyn Forever.

Long Beach Opera’s Marilyn Forever at The Warner Grand Theatre until March 29 is not so much the juxtaposition of Marilyn Monroe’s starlit existence with Norma Jeane’s private life but the story of a single Marilyn played by two actresses.

Granted, the one performed by Jamie Chamberlin is much better “put together,” at least externally, than the other played by disheveled Danielle Marcelle Bond. But they’re the same woman with the same anguish, depression and loneliness. It’s just that Bond is farther down the path of suicide than is Chamberlin.

This reading of the opera is not what artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek had in mind, since he said this regarding the Marilyn vs. Norma Jeane theme he hoped to achieve: “To more deeply understand this polarity and explore the inner struggle, I decided to cast Marilyn with two performers who will represent her public and private persona.”

Ironically, the most authentic scene is not with Bond’s Marilyn but with Chamberlin’s. She sits back-to-back with third husband Arthur Miller (Lee Gregory), each enjoying a good book. The simple, unadorned intimacy of mutually supporting one another (each literally and figuratively having the other’s back) is one of only two tender moments in this production. The other is at the end when the two Marilyns lie down together for the long sleep. The dancing and singing scene between Miller and Monroe is too well-orchestrated to be private, as if even then, the cameras are rolling.

Throughout the 90-minute opera by composer Gavin Bryars and librettist Marilyn (another one!) Bowering, Chamberlin and Bond spout despair and lament pretense: “Norma Jeane is still somewhere asking does someone love her” and “No one likes to see the path you have to pretend.” Both actresses convey the icon’s desperate need for love and her certainty that she is destined to remain unloved— this from perhaps the world’s most adored woman of all time, that is, if you don’t count Jesus’s mom.
Kudos to Mitisek’s direction, specifically in the choice of an onstage jazz trio— saxophonist Gavin Templeton, pianist Gary Fukusima and bassist Gavin Bryars (yes, the composer), with Ian Walker playing bass on March 29— that complements the eight-member pit orchestra.

Intriguing is the use of cameramen on stage who film in real time the actors and the details of the bedroom in which Marilyn swallowed the fatal barbiturates. Cast on large screens, these images overshadow and attempt to overpower the actors. There is a certain perversion in seeing Marilyn’s personal objects, a voyeurism in carefully panning the pills on her bed stand. Especially intrusive are the details of her hairbrush. Video designer Adam Flemming conveys the indecent intrusion that the general populace made into Norma Jeane’s/Marilyn’s life and continues to make into her memory. Fifty-three years following her death, Marilyn continues to fascinate us. Perhaps she is forever.

Marilyn Forever continues at The Warner Grand Theatre through Sunday, March 29. Performance is at 2:30pm. Opera Talks with artistic and general director Andreas Mitisek will take place at 1:30pm. General admission is $29 to $160. Student tickets are $15. Tickets may be purchased online at longbeachopera.org/tickets or by calling (562) 432-5934. The Warner Grand Theatre is located at 478 W. Sixth St. in San Pedro.