On 6 November 2009 at Chateau Neuf’s Lillesalen in Oslo, The International Theater Academy Norway (TITAN) presented the world-premiere of Marilyn/God, the latest work by New York City playwright Dr. Rosary O’Neill.
Directed by TITAN Rektor Brendan McCall, the play casts a spotlight on the iconic Ms. Monroe in the afterlife, as she desperately auditions to get into heaven. During the course of the play’s Dantesque conceit, Marilyn confronts people from her illustrious past, including ex-husbands, family members, and celebrities.
Originally written as a one-woman show, McCall chose to double the casting of Marilyn, with the blessing of the playwright. This premiere of Marilyn/God featured outstanding performances by Kristina Eikebråten and Hanne Greger, two TITAN students who will graduate in June 2010.
‘I wanted to emphasize that split in the her psyche, as it is written into her character,’ explains McCall. ‘The dynamic tension between Norma Jean, the person, and the burden of her public persona as Marilyn Monroe, sex goddess.’ In addition to double-casting, the play included intricate mirroring of gestures, and the doubling or overlapping of dialogue.
‘The play is set in this other reality, with Marilyn becoming a kind of Alice in Wonderland,’ says McCall excitedly. ‘This is wonderful material for a director, because you are not trapped by realism. Anything can happen.’
The playwright elaborates further, stating that Marilyn/God is about the loss of youth, the struggle against age and time. ‘Marilyn Monroe was the love goddess of America, which is a country obsessed by the youth cult,’ O’Neill says with a grin. ‘In many ways, she’s a quintessential artist, having captured the imagination of everyone from world-famous writers and actors to the President of the United States.’
This is the 4th time O’Neill and McCall have collaborated, and both are hoping to work together again in 2010 with a ‘companion piece’ entitled James Dean and the Devil. ‘I never get bored when I see [McCall] direct one of my plays—and I get bored easily!’ The Lousiana-born playwright continues: ‘His staging keeps the mind occupied, intrigued. Plus, I am grateful that all of the language of my plays is respected under his direction. He doesn’t lose the rhythm that I intended.’
McCall adds that he strives, with each play, to have the actors become both ‘instruments of my vision, as well as interpreters of the story.’
‘I like to highlight elements that can only happen live, in a theater’ when directing a play, McCall says with passion. ‘If an actor can do something with their voice, their body, or their imagination, let them. I would rather do that, than have the moment done by a prop or a lighting cue or something.’
While her plays have been presented often in New York City, this is the first time that Dr. O’Neill has had one of her plays produced in Norway. It was also the first time that she got to see McCall’s students at TITAN. Her impressions?
‘I was astonished at how athletic the actors [Eikebråten and Greger] were,’ O’Neill exclaimed. ‘They were bold, courageous, and highlighted performing. And the audiences seem much more sophisticated’ than the American counterparts that she is used to. ‘I feel like the people of Oslo really got the play’s complexity and nuance.’