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Hello Norma Jeane

Dylan Costello
Giant Cherry Productions
Park Theatre (Park90)

Vicki Michelle Credit: Mia Hawk
Jamie Hutchins and Peter McPherson Credit: Mia Hawk
Farrel Hegarty, Vicki Michelle and Jamie Hutchins Credit: Mia Hawk

Dylan Costello’s play Hello Norma Jeane seems to have a lot going for it, as it wraps questions of identity, gay relationships and old age in a comic mystery story about the secret life of an Essex grandmother.

Joe (Jamie Hutchins) arrives from England to a Los Angeles motel to persuade his seventy-six-year-old grandmother Lynnie (Vicki Michelle) to return to the Essex nursing home she has escaped. But she has other ideas. She plans to announce to the world that her true identity is Marilyn Monroe. As she explains, "you can’t put Marilyn in an old people’s home."

Joe also has troubles back in England. His partner is violent and unfaithful to him.

The play’s strength is the gentle and believable relationship between these two characters. For Joe, his grandmother was someone he felt at ease with; who was non-judgemental when he revealed he was gay.

The play quickly suggests it will be dealing with issues of identity, the way we treat the elderly, abusive gay partners and even conspiracy theories concerning the death of Marilyn Monroe. However, these and other ideas simply remain as suggestions. They are never developed.

The show is also never quite sure if it is telling us a mystery story about the secret life of Lynnie or just using characters, issues and plotlines as props for comedy. Not that the comedy seems all that connected.

Too many lines of dialogue are there simply to amuse. They don’t relate to each other and can be quite weak. Such an example occurs when Lynnie sends her grandson to get proof she is Marilyn from a man she lodged it with over thirty years earlier. She could have said many things. Her only comment is that he will still be alive because, "Orientals live longer than Bruce Forsyth."

The play’s third main character Bobby (Peter McPherson) seems to exist only to provide some manic knockabout comedy and gay love interest. He enters the story as an out of work actor hired for some unknown reason by Lynnie to pretend to be a CIA operative wielding a gun. It is puzzling that Joe still believes him CIA despite witnessing him easily being tackled and left unconscious on the ground by Lynnie.

Later, Bobby sheds his clothes in the interests of persuading Joe to have sex with him, then leaves the scene promising to open a pizza parlour named Joe’s.

Unfortunately, it is hard to believe a lot of what goes on in this play. Joe has an imaginary friend Marilyn (Farrel Hegarty) that he chats with. Lynnie chats with her imaginary friend Norma Jeane.

Joe claims Lynnie was placed in a care home because she was found wandering the streets three times in one week having forgotten where she lives. Yet this same woman flies the Atlantic alone, hires actors and tours Hollywood collecting proof to her secret identity.

There will be those who will enjoy the play as a gentle comic mystery. But many others will feel restless at its lack of direction, and dissatisfied with its refusal to deal in anything but the slightest way with so many serious issues.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna