Review: Write Act Rep’s 'Joe & Marilyn: A Love Story'

Erin Conley

  • OnStage Los Angeles Critic
  • @Erinsk8

LOS ANGELES CA - Everyone knows the story of Marilyn Monroe. It’s a story that has been told again and again in many mediums—theater fans surely recall her importance to Smash.
"Joe & Marilyn: A Love Story, a world premiere play by Willard Manus currently playing at North Hollywood's Write Act Repertory at the Brickhouse Theater, is a quiet, intimate look into Marilyn’s relationship with baseball star Joe DiMaggio that is charming, but ultimately unremarkable. 

This two-person play is essentially a series of vignettes spanning their relationship, from first meeting to brief marriage to Marilyn’s death, and would perhaps be better titled Joe & Marilyn: A Trainwreck. Just as Marilyn’s life was largely tragic, nearly everything about their relationship was quite depressing. With the exception of a few small moments where you begin to see what drew them to each other in the first place, they are nearly impossible to root for. Joe is abusive, Marilyn is adulterous, and they lack common ground. They simply don’t work well together, which is sad to watch as the story moves towards its devastating ending. 

Aside from a brief flash forward in the opening scene, the play, produced by artistic director John Lant and Write Act Rep, moves chronologically through Marilyn (Emily Elicia Low) and Joe’s (Rico Simonini) relationship. The Brickhouse Theater is tiny, and due to the limitations of a two-person show and an ambitious number of wardrobe changes, there are long pauses between scenes. While they are filled well with appropriate music (such as Marilyn’s famous rendition of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”), it makes the entire piece feel a bit disjointed, and I wonder if a different structure that would enable the actors to stay onstage more or less uninterrupted would help it feel more cohesive and flowing as opposed to coming across as a series of snapshots. Relatedly, due to the time jumps between scenes, a lot of exposition is included in the dialogue, often rather clunkily.

 Photo credit: Willy Sanjuan

Photo credit: Willy Sanjuan

In terms of choosing the moments to feature, the play did a solid job—there was a noticeable audience reaction when Marilyn emerged in the white dress from the famous Seven Year Itch photo, and her relationship with John F. Kennedy is also discussed. There were, however, a few moments when I felt the play skimmed the surface of something deeper, only to pull back too soon. Early on, Marilyn talks rather matter-of-factly about how she is not Marilyn, Marilyn is simply a persona she has created and learned to embody. This is the Marilyn I would like to learn more about. Similarly, there’s a scene towards the end where Marilyn convinces Joe, whom she is now divorced from, to help her read lines. It’s a simple, sweet moment between the two where you can understand how and why they got into this mess in the first place. Ultimately, this play did not illuminate much beyond the surface. While it is made clear that Joe cared deeply for Marilyn, even after the dissolution of their marriage, it is difficult to sympathize with a man who hit and belittled his wife. 

Low bears a striking resemblance to Ms. Monroe, and shined in Marilyn’s more vulnerable moments, of which I frankly wish there were more. Simonini rarely got to show a more vulnerable side of Joe, if such a side exists, but the two were very watchable and charming together. Fans of Marilyn and her legacy will likely enjoy this glimpse into a specific aspect of her life, even if it may not provide much new insight. 

Joe & Marilyn: A Love Story runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through May 22nd. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at