My One & Only, ATP playRites ‘04

The Weal, SAIT
Jan 29, 2004
By Peter Green

If one had to define the term ‘glamour’, one could hardly do better than to point to the past century’s ultimate sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe, who died in 1962 of a drug overdose, lived a life that defined public glamour and, sadly, private tragedy. A runaway star on the silver screen, Monroe’s smiling public personal masked a past haunted by a mentally ill mother and a childhood spent in and out of abusive foster homes.

My One & Only, a featured play at Alberta Theatre Projects’ 18th annual playRites Festival, is giving Calgarians a chance next month to explore a Canadian connection to one of cinema’s biggest bombshells.

Written by Calgary playwright Ken Cameron, My One & Only is a fictional account of Scout, a young Banff teen whose awakening sexuality is ignited by a chance encounter with Monroe. Wandering about town together incognito, the play witnesses Monroe forming a complex, touching relationship with the teen, a boy whose own life has unfolded in an equally unsettling manner as hers.

The play was inspired by a visit Monroe paid t Banff and Jasper in 1953 to shoot The River of No Return, a so-so western that somehow managed to be average despite the presence of co-star Robert Mitchum and legendary director Otto Preminger.
Tara Hughes, a veteran of Canada’s theatre scene who last appeared with the playRites festival in 1999, has been cast as Monroe in the upcoming play. Reached on the phone fresh from final rehearsals for the play, the Alberta actress thoughtfully described both the challenges and rewards of attempting to play such a legendary figure.

“It’s a pretty big brassiere to fill, as it were,” Hughes laughed.
All kidding aside, Hughes admitted playing the tormented Monroe is hardly an easy task.

“The only way I’ve been able to come at it without being overwhelmed is to take it piece by piece.”

Hughes, whose first acting job years ago was, ironically, impersonating Monroe, said My One and Only succeeds because people never tire of dissecting the contradictory life of the former Norma Jean Mortenson.
Often depicted as the original Dumb Blonde, Monroe was actually a highly-intelligent woman who deliberately exploited her good looks to become famous.

“She was always aware she was selling sex – she knew what she was doing, and she knew how to get ahead in the business.” Hughes said of Monroe’s appeal.

Hughes describes this self-awareness as “groundbreaking”, but added that Monroe’s conscious exploitation of her image had its down side. Despite her success, Monroe was neither able to escape the trauma of her past nor the stigma from a public that remained skeptical of the actress’ actual talent.
Hughes noted the complexities of Monroe’s life are ones faced by most people. “She was never allowed to give herself to one person, and we’ve all met someone like that,” she said. “In any industry there are always secrets about how business is done. We find it hard to believe – we’re always trying to figure out how someone gets there just by looks.”

At the end of the day, Hughes said the true tragedy of Monroe’s life was not in what others thought of her, but rather what she thought of herself.
“It’s possible that if she could have loved herself as much as the world loved her, she’d be alive today.”