note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Playwright Lesley Anne Moreau’s new, two-act, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” which she also directs at the Boston Playwrights Theatre, has lots of promise, but needs repaving and structural changes. Currently making its world premiere with Happy Medium Theatre’s talented cast, the play explores the netherworld existence of five talented actors who died prematurely, and are held in limbo in a locked room. Together, they must discover the key to their inter-relatlonship, before they can individually pass on to their unknown afterlife.
Moreau has carefully researched her five authentic characters, but the plot is frayed around the edges, and the solution to their unlocking their limbo status is contrived. The structure is forced, repetitive, inflexible.
We’re introduced, one at a time, to James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sal Mineo, Heather O’Rourke and River Phoenix --- who each summarize their lives, careers, deaths, hopes and fears. On a second-story level, they’re highlighted in a background cut-out, then descend to a clinically barren room. Andy Hicks’ sound design and timely musical interludes and Greg Jutkiewicz’s lighting shift the production’s mood and pace.
The first to fall is James Dean, nicely portrayed by Nick Miller. He always wanted to act, the flamboyant actor from Indiana tells us. His mother‘s death when he was 10 years old greatly impacted his life, but he managed to attend acting school in New York, land three huge movie roles, for which he received Academy Award nominations --- two posthumously, after his fatal car crash at 24 years old on Sept. 30, 1955. He’s unsettled, bored, nervous, until a new roommate drops in Aug. 5, 1962 --- Marilyn Monroe. Sheepishly, he shares with her his adoration of Marlon Brando, who told him he needed psychiatric help.
From her upper perch, wearing her famous white dress, Marilyn (Kiki Samko) relates her sad tale of woe --- refusing to reveal her cause of death (presumed to be from acute barbiturate poisoning, suicide, or murder) at age 36. As a youngster, she was passed around from one foster home to another, and was never at peace. Although her fame as a sex symbol and actress grew, she wanted to be herself --- Norma Jean Baker --- and not the movie studio’s promiscuous image, she says. She was married three times (and suffered a miscarriage, she adds) never achieving peace, even in death.
Dean’s delighted to have company, especially hers, swapping traits in common. After reading notes tacked on a wall, they realize three others must join their locked room. Together, they must discover what they share before the door will unlock.
Dean’s even happier to see his former co-star, openly gay Sal Mineo, “the Bronx switchblade,” who ironically was stabbed to death at 37, outside his West Hollywood apartment, on Feb. 12, 1976. Mineo (sensitively portrayed by East Boston resident/HMT Executive Producer Mikey DiLoreto), was attacked during what investigators termed a robbery, but rumors circulated about an anti-gay hate murder.
The trio are deeply moved when pretty, bright 12-year-old actress Heather O’Rourke appears. She died tragically, Feb. 1, 1988, of cardiac arrest on the operating table, believed to be caused by septic shock. She was initially misdiagnosed with the flu. Dressed in PJs, hugging a Dumbo stuffed animal and carrying a goldfish bowl, Kendall Aigiuer is delightful as the sunshiny little actress whom Steven Spielberg discovered during an audition, when she was 5.
Although Heather accepts her death, claiming she had predicted it earlier, 23-year-old River Phoenix slams doors, screams, and refuses to accept his demise from a lethal drug overdose of cocaine and heroin on Halloween, 1993. Phoenix lookalike Michael Underhill punctuates the troubled young star’s frustration. He and the stormy Dean angrily exchange blows, as the others pacify them.
In a series of quick blackout scenes, the group ultimately stumbles on the mundane, solution.
BOX INFO: Happy Medium Theatre (HMT) presents the world premiere of Lesley Anne Moreau’s two-act play, appearing through Aug. 20 at Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Performances are Aug. 18,19,20, at 8 p.m.; matinee, Aug. 20, at 3 p.m. Advance adult tickets, $13; at the door, $16; students, seniors, $10/$12; Thursday, $5. Visit www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/168/1312243200000/prm/ or www.happymediumtheatre.com/?cat=32