Who killed Marilyn?

uicide or murder, accidental or intentional overdose, John F. Kennedy or official state authorities: 50 years on, conspiracies still continue to shroud the death of legendary singer, actress and showgirl Marilyn Monroe. 

Zouzou, a Lebanese mechanic, rarely comes to mind when pinning down the potential suspects, but neither does a Lebanese version of Jackie Kennedy. Co-writers and co-stars Marwa Khalil and Raïa Haïdar’s local production, Who Killed Marilyn?, pokes humor at the possibility that the American sex symbol might have been killed in Lebanon.   

“We have been inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s life and recreated our own reality without taking into consideration the chronology of real events. She is an excuse, a metaphor to talk about our obsessions, death, truth, and eternal beauty,” reads the play’s press release.

The project started a little over a year ago, when Haïdar and Khalil met during a dinner and bonded over their desire to create a play. Both avid fans of Monroe, the two women came up with the idea, put it into writing and actively sought funding through sponsorship.

The character of curvy, sensual and seductive Monroe takes on a Lebanese twist in the play, and so do the five suspects in her murder. To amplify that effect, Haidar and Khalil resorted to using Arabic, English and French in their script, which presented the most intriguing and, perhaps, the most amusing part of the play: the “lebanization” of Monroe and her mysterious death.

Drawing on extensive research into Monroe’s life, the young scriptwriters fuzzed biographical facts within the Lebanese context. As such, Monroe’s mother, Gladys Baker, went from a lifetime in psychiatric hospitals to being portrayed as a demented woman, self-obsessed with her appearances and plastic surgery. This proved to be particularly amusing for the audience, who is familiar with the stereotype of Lebanese mothers, while the final act painted a darker image of maids taking vengeance on their employers.

Influenced by France’s Theater of the Absurd, a trend of fiction emanating from mostly European artists of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the sequence spawned a whole other set of feelings, ranging from confusion to sheer disgust.

“It goes into delirium, and is reflective of what a maid could do to her [employer],” Haïdar said, noting an active desire not to tackle the migrant domestic workers topic directly. “We felt it was a bit cliché [to have the character be a foreign worker], so we chose Lebanese maids who aren’t very common these days,” said Haidar. “When Marilyn died, everyone wanted a piece of her: her hair, her nails, her belongings ... The idea was to push it to the extreme.”
Pushing both the plot and the characters to the extreme was a recurrent pattern throughout the play, which, according to the producers, proved successful with the Lebanese audience.

In addition to being the scriptwriters, Haïdar and Khalil also performed in the play, taking on the roles of each of the different six characters amid a theme of 1950’s glamour against a backdrop of mostly black-and-white projections.

“At first, we were thinking of giving each scene a different genre,” but it ultimately turned out to be a concoction, said Haïdar, who insisted that the tragic comedy was about generating a sense of fusion. Moments of burlesque-like stints interspaced with Broadway-like singing made for a vibrant display.

Under the audiovisual direction of Nadim Deaibes, with his 10 years of experience in the field, the 45-minute performance left several theater-goers hungry for more. “Today’s world is fast paced. If I can say something in a minimal time, I will,” stated Haïdar.

Prospects of taking the play on the road are currently in the works, but it remains to be seen how the production would pass with a non-Lebanese crowd.

“Who killed Marilyn?” is playing at Beirut’s Monot Theater until December 18. For more information about the venue and tickets, please visit the event Facebook page.

  • madelline

    I love this! (:

    December 14, 2011