Marilyn, Mom, & Me has World Premiere at ICT

Who was Marilyn Monroe? It’s a question the world has had since she took Hollywood by storm in the 1950s. Marilyn is timeless, mysterious, and gorgeous. Yet on the flip side, lonely, isolated, and empty. Did she truly have it all? Who were her friends? Did she even have friends? These questions and more are candidly explored in Marilyn, Mom, and Me. A compelling play celebrating its world premiere at Long Beach’s International City Theatre.

The two-hour dramedy is written and directed by Luke Yankee. His mother was renowned stage and screen actress, Eileen Heckart. In 1956, Heckart was paired to co-star with Marilyn Monroe herself in the film, Bus Stop. Working with Marilyn would go on to haunt Eileen for the rest of her life. As Luke grew up and entered the industry himself, he wanted to know more about his mother’s most famous friend. Why did it pain Eileen to hear Marilyn’s name? She spoke openly of other experiences throughout her extraordinary life but never Marilyn.

The Mom Project

The play begins with Luke (played by Brian Rohan) holding a tape recorder in his hand. He wants to once and for all do “the Mom Project” as he calls it. The project being, to ask his mother (Laura Gardner), in her own words: what was Marilyn Monroe like? Eileen shies away at first. Using lines and excuses Luke has heard his whole life. As they bicker and argue over the best New York bakeries, it’s clear they have a special bond. Eileen may not be warm and fuzzy and as we learn later on, always the most supportive, yet Yankee’s words come across warm and sincere.

Rohan and Gardner equally appear to have that relationship. They portray the delicate role of mother and son with vulnerability and grace. Even when scenes raise tough questions and get tense, it’s clear Eileen loved Luke and her family. And her friends.

Marilyn Monroe and Eileen Heckart

When Luke finally weakens Eileen to sit down and talk, she goes deep down Memory Lane. We meet the blonde bombshell. Marilyn Monroe’s (Alisha Soper) opening scene is exactly as I’d imagine an entrance by her to be. Eileen recalls Marilyn being hours late and speaking with a rather humorous accent. She later learns that Marilyn is studying method acting with Paula Strasberg (Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield) and must become her character by portraying them at all times.

Laura Gardner and Brian Rohan. Photo by Paul Kennedy
Alisha Soper Photo by Paul Kennedy

A Sisterly Bond

Marilyn takes to Eileen quickly. The starlet is desperate for a friend and even asks Eileen if they can be best friends. Although Eileen may come across as a bit rough around the edges at first, she connected more than she let on with her co-star.

As Yankee’s provoking story progresses, we get a glimpse into the rather dreary childhoods both beautiful women had. Neither knew their fathers nor were raised by their mothers. Marilyn confesses she’s been told her attraction to older men is due to her absent father. She confides in Eileen that she’s quietly engaged to Arthur Miller (Noah Wagner) and dreams of being the perfect wife. Since Eileen is happily married with children of her own, Marilyn looks up to her.

Luke has his own memories of the beauty. Eileen’s boys adored their mom’s friend. In a particularly memorable scene, Eileen recounts when Marilyn took grapefruits from a fruit basket to play ball with the kids.

Becoming Marilyn Monroe

Soper is remarkable as Marilyn. She channels her as if the star is taking over her entire being. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had chills when she hit the stage. She effortlessly brings forth each side of Marilyn we all know and love. From the naive “dumb blonde” persona to the businesswoman powerhouse. She knew she had the most power of anyone when in a room.

Despite all that power, insecurities crippled her. When moods got tense on set, it was Eileen who knew what made Marilyn “tick.” Bus Stop director, Joshua Logan (Wagner), even recruited Eckhart to assist in reeling Monroe in. For the two months of shooting, they shared a sisterly bond. Despite their talent and success, the women just wanted love. To give and receive it. To not feel like imposters. Yankee shows audiences that no matter who you are or perceive to be, at the end of the day we just don’t want to feel alone.

Alisha Soper, Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield. and Laura Gardner Photo by Paul Kennedy
Noah Wagner and Alisha Soper Photo by Paul Kennedy

Mother and Son

Gardner as Heckart is excellent casting. Yankee chose her to play his mother over three years ago when Marilyn, Mom, and Me was beginning. She has the stage and screen star’s raspy voice down and easily shifts from the past to the present day throughout the scenes. It’s quite the emotional ride as Heckart’s life draws to a close and we watch Luke say goodbye to his brassy, feisty mom.

Both Schofield and Wagner play multiple roles, respectively. In a memorable moment, Wagner plays a crew member named Dwayne whom Monroe has a past. We see a fierce side to her and are reminded of what women in Hollywood have always dealt with.

Schofield has a great stage presence and of course, steals the scenes playing Ella Fitzgerald. Ella was a favorite performer of Marilyn’s and helped elevate her career in a strong racial climate.

Yankee has done a superb job at directing Marilyn, Mom, and Me. This is his story and so close to his heart. It was ironic watching the play unfold about his life as he sat just seats away from us.

Marilyn, Mom, and Me at ICT

The modest scenic design by Dan Volonte utilizes a clever twist. The backdrops are screens showcasing photos of where each scene takes place. That includes living rooms, sets, and cafes. With words and monologues as powerful and provoking as Yankee’s, no elaborate props are necessary.

Since this is a play about Hollywood stars and their glamor, of course, the hair, make-up, and costumes are on point. Kimberly DeShazo has iconic pieces on Marilyn that expertly replicate the era. From sparkly gowns to a similar outfit worn in Bus Stop. Soper’s red lip completes her uncanny portrayal of Monroe along with that signature blonde hair style. Resident hair and wig designer, Anthony Gagliardi, brings the wig to life.

Marilyn, Mom, and Me plays at the International City Theatre in Long Beach through March third. It’s been hinted that the exquisite play will head to New York. Catch it in Los Angeles while it’s in town. Learn more and book tickets HERE.

  1. Jen

    February 22, 2024 at 1:56 pm

    The plot sounds fascinating! I’ve never seen a play at Long Beach’s International City Theatre. I just may have to soon!

    1. AlongComesMary

      February 23, 2024 at 3:38 pm

      Thanks so much, jen!!

Comments are closed.