By Casey Curtis
To those of you who are accustomed to getting your information from Wikipedia, or asking Alexa and Siri, might I suggest a far more delightful way to learn about or experience the past. Go to the theater.
Let’s say for instance, you knew little of Marlene Dietrich, film star of a bygone era, wouldn’t it be delightful if you could actually be in the same room with her, meeting her, experiencing her libertine — and yet highly moral — personality? Cindy Marinangel, the actor who so convincingly portrays Marlene Dietrich in the one-woman show “Marlene” at the Hudson Guild Theater, makes this possible. Willard Manus’s well-written script makes this possible. Judith Rose’s accessible, cogent direction makes this possible. Theater makes this possible.
Through this talented trio we see an emotional — more so than purely biographical — snapshot of Marlene’s life. We spend just enough time with her to learn how devoted she was to American troops as a performer throughout World War II, how she was a German who rebuked the Nazi’s and then lived in fear of retribution for the rest of her life, and her fragile connection with her daughter.
More salaciously, we find out that Marlene Dietrich had affairs with a long-scrolling credit list of famous Hollywood actors, directors, and writers, both male and female. Surprisingly, she self-reports that she did not particularly enjoy sex. It is almost as if Marlene’s life is one of service to others in every sense of the word and a never fully fulfilled search for connection. Whatever conclusions you draw from the narrative, and like interpreting a Rorschach blot, I am certain you will draw your own, see “Marlene.”
Cindy Marinangel brings both an actor’s and an improviser’s sensibility to her portrayal. Indeed, she is a member of the Actors Studio and a Chicago Second City Conservatory graduate. Dressed in a partially open silk robe with stockings and a garter belt, through Ms. Marinangel we feel Marlene’s sexuality and psychological foibles. The songs, such as the iconic, “Falling In Love Again,” — with skillful accompaniment by Russell Daisey — were so marvelous that even more would be a welcome addition. ,
So, use your computer to read this review, but then turn it off and get out of the house. Anyone who passes on a date with Marlene Dietrich is missing out on life.
Marlene, produced by and starring Cindy Marinangel, written by Willard Manus, directed by Judith Rose, with voice roles played by Alan August, Glenda Morgan Brown, and David Glover. Pianist: Russell Daisey. Hudson Guild Theater: 441 W 26th Street.
P.S. Here is a brief anecdote that has no place in this play, but does get to be a postscript: When I was a child I lived in the same NYC building as Marlene Dietrich. One night she returned from Paris and had the doorman load up the elevator with so many trunks and so much luggage that the cable snapped and it went into free-fall. Emergency braking systems stopped the elevator car so that no one was injured, but apparently great divas do not travel with just a toothbrush.