I went (to the Shed) and saw a show last night. It was called Norma Jean Baker of Troy. And starred one of my all-time favorites, Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming, an Opera Star in the best sense with an amazing voice.
It was a show, not a play. More a poem of dance and obsession. It reminded me of the movie Howl, where James Franco recites the poem, as Alan Ginsberg, and the poem plays out around him in action, occasional cartoon and history. Howl is great.
Norman Jean Baker of Troy is not great. It has some great moments. Ben Whishaw is great as always. He has an intensity and voice and movement that is mesmerizing. It is used here to a hypnotic effect. Renée Fleming’s voice is similarly hypnotic and haunting. Her voice is pure energy, rising and falling like a third person in the room.
Putting them together should yield something that is completely different, which NJBOT is. But it should also yield something inviting and urgent, which NJBOT is definitely not.
|Renée Fleming as the Transciber|
Ben Whishaw recites the lines to a transcriber, Renée Fleming. He describes the fall of Troy substituting Norma Jean for Helen. But is a reflection, a simulacrum, a cloud of Norma Jean (the cloud analogy is used over and over and over again). One that Arthur of Sparta and New York (Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe’s 3rd husband), attempts to recover.
Norma Jean is, according to this told rendition, is held by the gods – not in Egypt as in Euripides poem, but at the Chateau Marmont. NJBOT continues in this tale for ninety minutes. The story-teller brings in the story of Persephone as well. All of these women loved and hated and held for their beauty.
As the poem progresses, Whishaw is slowly, very slowly, transforming into Marilyn in her iconic seven-year itch white dress. And Renée moves from simply transcribing to telling the tale and transcribing and singing and helping with make-up.
|A shot probably from the second row. I sat in "D" and barely saw their faces.|
It ends, as it must, with Whishaw overdosing and going to sleep.
How is it? Well, I loved it and hated it at the same time. Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming are unimaginably good, because you simply cannot believe it could hold your attention, and it does. Ms. Fleming’s voice is like nothing I’ve ever heard, but I am not an Opera fan.
And the same time, more than a few people walked out.
As for The Shed, it is way too cavernous for this play. The props were human sized and yet so far from most of the people you knew who the pictures were only because you knmow it is Marilyn Monroe. They need to understand how to use the space. The shows at the Park Avenue Armory give me hope for the space.