Written by Canadian author Anne Carson, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is typically performed as a one- or two-person piece (curiously, the Off-Broadway cast had a man telling this story). But Rough Magic has cast three female-identifying actors (Alayne Hopkins, Catherine Johnson Justice, and Marcela Michelle) who take turns in the storytelling. The piece naturally falls into three roles - Norma Jeane, a scholar telling her story from a podium, and everyone else (including Marilyn's husband Arthur Miller and friend Truman Capote). Dressed in identical white dresses reminiscent of the iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch (costume design by Kathy Kohl) with blond wigs, the three actors each spend some time in each of the three roles, passing the baton (or accessory) between them. The play is constructed as a series of scenes, or lessons, beginning with a Greek word. Between each "Norma Jeane enters" and "Norma Jeane exits" we see a scene of Helen, or Norma Jeane, or both of them at once. There are a lot of layers here, and sometimes it's hard to keep track of who's who and where we are. It's more like an abstract work of art than a realistic painting, appreciated for the impression it creates and the thoughts and emotions it evokes rather than a clear understanding of what it is.
|Marcela Michelle, Catherine Johnson Justice,|
and Alayne Hopkins (photo courtesy of Rough Magic)
This play makes quite an impression in a short time, and left me wanting to know more about both Helen and Norma Jeane. It's funny and tragic and thought-provoking, an exciting expansion for Rough Magic Performance Company and a heartening step back into the world of really great plays.