In a trailer park somewhere in backwater Nevada, a woman called Rosarita sits out in the heat, and quenches her thirst with whiskey sours. “Real sour, to suit my mood,” she tells us. But in truth, Rosarita seems happy to tell us her story: a tale of discovered identity, troubled upbringing… and Marilyn Monroe. It’s a convincing performance from solo actor Rose Condo, and Clara-Nel Haddon’s script paints a vivid picture, of an ordinary life which both harbours and treasures an extraordinary secret.
With a smattering of intrigue and just a hint of sex, Rosarita’s story holds a lot of promise; but the thread is lost a little in the second half of the script, which gravitates towards a simple factual biography of Marilyn Monroe. The play is far stronger when Rosarita’s own story is to the fore: she paints a compellingly bleak portrait of her parents’ harsh, loveless, “Christian” marriage, and of what it’s like to look back on a childhood devoid of genuine tenderness. I’d have liked to hear more about Rosarita’s own emotions, especially when she makes a startling discovery about her own past. That pivotal moment is skipped quite lightly over; the younger Rosarita seems surprisingly ready to accept what must have been a life-changing shock.
The ambiance is nicely evocative, delivering a seductive blend of decadence and trashiness which emphasises the story’s links to the life of Marilyn Monroe. But there’s a sharp change of direction towards the end, when Condo switches out of character as Rosarita and begins to deliver a series of eyewitness monologues delivered by Monroe’s contemporaries. The insights are interesting and the performances are confident, but the presentation, I’m afraid, is clumsy – defined by frequent blackouts and traipsing in the darkness around the stage. It’s just too crunching a change of gear, and if Plush Tiger Productions choose to retain these talking-head pieces in future development then I’d suggest they consider spreading them more evenly throughout the monologue.
Similarly, the last few minutes pack in a few too many new ideas (including a conspiracy theory surrounding Monroe’s death, and a hitherto-unmentioned nuclear test which bears very little connection to the core of the story). The end result is slightly confusing – which is a shame, because up to that point it had been heading towards a simple and well-argued conclusion.
So there are the makings of something intriguing and thought-provoking here – but it needs a good edit, and a renewed focus on Rosarita, whose rightful place is at the centre of the tale. After all, Condo is compelling in that role, conjuring a character who’s spiky enough to hint at a difficult past yet warm enough to make us care. There are some universal themes at play as well – to do with where we come from, and how the world manipulates us – and the most important plot twist is surprising without seeming preposterous. I think a little gentle tending will make this flower bloom.