Theater Review: A Star Blazes in ‘Marilyn Monroe, Whoever You Are’

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Average: 5 (3 votes)

CHICAGO – The many sides of the mega film legend Marilyn Monroe was like a prism in an ever-changing kaleidoscope. Yet somehow actor and playwright Amber Hargroder was able to capture Monroe’s essence in a one woman show…and illuminate the heartache of the world’s best known sex symbol, destined to be alone. This weekend only, Juniper Productions presents “Marilyn Monroe, Whoever You Are” at the Den Theater in Chicago. Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 5.0/5.0
Play Rating: 5.0/5.0

The journey of Norma Jeane Mortensen – the name on Monroe’s birth certificate – from 13 foster homes to number one sex symbol, is one of triumph for the overcoming of those early life odds, and tragedy for the karma that had to be endured to get there. One of her quotes, never attributed, was “everyone wants to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe, but no one wants to wake up with Norma Jeane.” And in a sense, that is what Amber Hargroder – who wrote the book and created the production with Nora Best – captures in her one woman tour de force. In an intelligent and expressive monologue, the real life of being a sex symbol in a repressive and judgmental society, in a business that used and abused her, with men that never understood her, are all brought to truth. Hargroder is a revelation as Monroe, with every line in the piece a passion play.

Amber Hargroder
Amber Hargroder as the Title Character in ‘Marilyn Monroe, Whoever You Are’
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The play is set in a vague afterlife, with the career mementos of actress Marilyn Monroe (Amber Hargroder) spread before her, in three areas of the stage. She is preparing for something, wearing a robe that struggles to stay on, speaking of the obstacles she had to overcome, until she couldn’t do it anymore. From the days of a pin-up girl during World War II, to the early days in Hollywood, to the spotlight of superstardom and the loss that came from it, “Marilyn Monroe, Whoever You Are” is an essential illustration of a tapped-out life.

Amber Hargroder – who wrote, directed and performs this expansion of the play, which she debuted last year – is simply astonishing as Ms. Monroe. Because Hargroder created the character (her Monroe constantly refers to Marilyn as a “character”), she was also able to steer the persona toward her strengths as an actor. Amber Hargroder also has the presence to physically and intellectually project the spirit of Marilyn, both without exploiting her or excising the suffering as a result of the bad decisions the star made. She is able to capture the sensuality, the insanity, the anger and the soul of the sex symbol. This one woman show fills the stage in the portrayal, you cannot take your eyes off Amber Hargroder as the icon.

The book of the play is solid as well, a balance of the facts that exist, with a smidgin of the speculation. If you know everything about Marilyn (as I do), or just know her as some vague old-timey sexy movie star, the play offers everything for both levels of knowledge. There is a stunning use of Monroe’s actual songs in the play, both orchestrated and sung a cappella, which become heartbreaking in the context of the play’s communication. And it is all wrapped up in Hargroder’s delivery, a beautiful and unforgettable stage experience.

Amber Hargroder
Candle in the Wind: ‘Marilyn Monroe, Whoever You Are’
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The production design lends to the atmosphere, as the stage is divided into a mirror that reflects the character, a chaise lounger to express the sex and a desk area to represent the harsh business of show. All three places eventually let the movie star down, and all three are used with utmost effectiveness in the show, and adds to the Monroe poignancy as she travels from symbol to symbol.

This is utterly a must see for Marilyn Monroe admirers, but also has that must-see status as a magnificently drawn piece of stagecraft. Amber Hargroder becomes the goddess Monroe, but also is openly and achingly the lost human soul that had to wake up every morning as Norma Jeane.

Juniper Production presents “Marilyn Monroe Whoever You Are” at The Den Theater, 1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, from May 29th through June 1st, 2014 – Thursday to Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Written and performed by Amber Hargroder. Directed by Amber Hargroder, with Bill Daniels and Nora Best. Click here to purchase tickets and for more information. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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