In the show “Le vertige Marilyn” by Olivier Steiner and Emmanuel Lagarrigue, Isabelle Adjani fleshes out a dream dialogue with Marilyn Monroe. Author René de Ceccatty gives us his thoughts on both.
Seeing Isabelle Adjani again on a theater stage is an event disturbing enough not to require a birthday or cultural event to justify it. But we cannot forget that on August 4, 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom.
When at the end of January, the Maison de la Poésie scheduled four extraordinary performances of Vertigo Marilyn by Olivier Steiner, it is not certain that the spectators who had the opportunity to participate had in mind that in the same year we would celebrate the 60th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, so natural was the gesture of the French actress, regardless of any circumstance .
But we realized, by the intensity of Isabelle Adjani’s so free play, by the strangeness of Emmanuel Lagarrigue’s scenic apparatus – which turned the performance into a kind of installation -, by the enchanting beauty of the lighting that throws the whole room into a luminous fog, that these sessions could not be the only, the last, but that they called for a suite, another audience, other rooms, other places. And it was at the same time very beautiful that the creation was, so to speak, carried out secretly, without effort, by stealth, like a discreet and stolen glance at a past event brought back by the living theater into the present. Beautiful, but frustrating. And the inevitable happened: other scenes demanded it. L’Atelier, a Parisian hall whose special feature is that the square where it stands already seems to be the theater, was the ideal next step before festivals, Venice and Greece. And probably elsewhere.
On stage, a “sister” to Marilyn
While writing her portrait of the actress by Misadjustments (1961), which had transformed from a product of the Hollywood studios through the poetry of his own person into a myth in which desire, irony and death were intertwined, Olivier Steiner was probably not thinking of a “play” but rather a literary meditation , as he practiced it in his previous books, which talked about love and disappearance, about the misunderstandings of passion and about the brush madness. And it would have been a mistake to entrust the text to a mimetic actress who, by her righteousness and by an imitation breath of voice, would have “represented” the sacrificed icon that was Marilyn Monroe. What was needed was not only an actress, but a “sister” of Marilyn (as Pasolini says in the poem that ends the performance), who would have known, like her, the violence and the splendor of the screen in the same mixture of seduction and vulnerability. Isabelle Adjani is therefore not content to say Marilyn’s words, those of her interviews, those of her famous lines, she makes them her own and also lends her those that she herself has spoken and still speaks in professional or private interviews. , sometimes with passion, sometimes with a certain smile.
Like Marilyn, Isabelle Adjani has had such a strong identification with the characters she has played on screen that her admirers find it difficult to separate the person from her image. But unlike Marilyn, Isabelle has theater experience. And what theater actors have that is different from film actors is the personal control of body language, gaze and voice. What no film school teaches and no editor or cinematographer can correct or change. Rhythm on the stage, which depends on an ability to speed up or slow down movement, to change register, to catch or escape light, all theaters in the world are always looking for its mysterious bearers. And as we know, it is the stage that imposes its law: there are actors that the stage loves, just as there are faces that the camera loves. At what price? This is exactly the question Vertigo Marilyn. At what price must we pay this love of the camera or this love of the stage? What intimate tribute must an actress pay for the miracle to take place?
Speaking to Marilyn’s blonde shadow, which, as in screens or Japanese or Chinese ink, seems to take shape and evaporate from painting to painting, Isabelle Adjani mirrors a few stages on the road to her own life, by alluding to ” the rumour”, which, in the middle of her career, almost broke her, also to her own family situations (to her double and contrasting origin), or to her status as mother and daughter. Enough to breathe into the battered fragility of the American actress her own fragility-turned-strength. But for that, psychological affinities, however obvious they may be, are not enough: you also need an unstoppable technique of stage presence.
A subtle and complex literary material
Olivier Steiner’s text is a subtle and composite literary material that uses interviews with Marilyn, police reports (found by her body), radio, telephone or film documents (Cukor’s unfinished film), testimonies, as well as dreamlike or realistic sequences. He demands from the actress a very special use of her voice, which enables the audience to immediately understand who is speaking through her. Isabelle Adjani gets three votes depending on whether she’s speaking for her, playing Marilyn in her final moments (but exactly, wasn’t Marilyn always “legend”?), or reporting elements of the investigation. And in each of these three registers it brings nuances, depending on whether it is expressed with irony and deliberate histrionics, as one does to guard against an indiscreet intrusion into an interview, or with overwhelming sincerity, which imposes itself, either she, Isabelle, answers personal questions, or that she masterfully becomes the “true” Marilyn, giving in to an innocent erotic impulse or rediscovering the traces of her father and trapped in the tribe of her childhood. There are a few minutes of theatrical magic that you very rarely get to see, like these musical measures that, in a simple melody, a sonata, a concerto, surprise the audience with their poetry, as fleetingly the unpredictable that strikes the heart. .
The scaffolding and the projectors faced the audience and silvered or gilded the fog, far from keeping the actress at a distance, bringing her closer to the public as if she were bursting the screen. Because that’s also what it’s all about: Getting not only time to pass, but also the screen.
Isabelle Adjani has come and gone since the beginning of her career between cinema and theatre. And as in The Purple Rose of Cairo, we have the impression that the world of celluloid and the world of records are no longer watertight. When she takes her face in her hands and looks, motionless and luminous, at the room while a voiceover is broadcast, we are electrified by this vision of a perfectly three-dimensional face that seems to emerge from a screen. On the contrary, when in a short comic sequence she conjures up the paparazzi who stalk stars on the street and want to capture what they never want to capture in this way, she freezes her real presence by turning it into a magazine mirage.
“Vertigo” is the right word. That this creation comes about after months of live theater has been inhibited is a reminder of how much we needed a presence, and that a movie star gets to meet another star in a ritual so humble and alive that a theater performance is a kind of grace. And by a strange paradox, at the same time that Isabelle brings Marilyn back among us, she performs a cinematic tribute on the screens in the company of François Ozon in the Fassbinder theater. It then imports, in the cinema, the language of theatre, in this new back and forth, which reminds us how much the two art forms through it mutually vitalize each other.
“Le vertige Marilyn” on tour August 6 at the Ramatuelle Festival, August 13 at the Lacoste Festival and September 10, 2022 in Antibes.