Contrary to what its title suggests, Who in the Hell is the Real Live Lorelei Lee? is not about the diamond-loving flapper in Anita Loos's novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made immortal by Carol Channing on stage and Marilyn Monroe on screen. Frank Cwiklik's fascinating new work chronicles the life of a young girl who takes the name from the character Monroe played in the 1953 film for her new identity as a pinup girl.
Cwiklik is a writer and director with an almost limitless vision, effulgently creative and willing to take risks that other theatre folk would blanch at. His darkly comic Who in the Hell is the Real Live Lorelei Lee? is an intriguing look at the seamy 1950s world of pseudo-porn photography, pinup queens, and burlesque divas, and like its characters, the physical beauty masks the broken dreams underneath. But Cwiklik's voluptuous script is sprawling and unfocused, and his staging of this mini-epic was too large for the tiny stage of the Red Room. With no set, tacky but appropriate costumes, and dark lighting, it appeared like its heroine: confused and stuffed into an outfit that was two sizes too small.
But the performances from the huge cast (8 Girls, 8!, plus 3 men) were uniformly excellent, with Marguerite French taking top honors for her emotionally raw, heart-breaking performance as Lorelei.
Despite the concurrent sparseness and excess, though, Frank Cwiklik is still a force to be reckoned with, and Who in the Hell is the Real Live Lorelei Lee? has the potential to be a terrific work. The risks taken were ballsy, the creativity on display was breathtaking, and if it was all just a little too self-indulgent, at least it was original, thought-provoking, and ultimately moving.
(Also featuring Bryan Enk, Jessica Wells, Michele Schlossberg, Cate Bottiglione, Bob Brader, Marissa Moss, Cheryl Puente, Bob Laine, Lara Hughes, and Mercedes Emelina. Designed by Frank Cwiklik.)
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Copyright 2004 Doug DeVita