Voyaging to the dark side with Monroe, Davis and Crawford in John Misto's new play
Based on actual events, John Misto’s latest play puts Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and America’s most feared gossip columnist in the same room, writes Garrett Bithell.
It’s 1962 in Hollywood, and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are at war – their careers have hit the skids, they are ageing rapidly, and locked in a titanic struggle for top billing on their latest movie.
When America’s most feared gossip columnist Hedda Hopper invites them to supper, they call an uneasy truce. But then in walks an unexpected guest – a very drunk and very young Marilyn Monroe.
Herein lies the premise of Dark Voyager by renowned writer John Misto, which will get its world premiere at the Ensemble Theatre later this month. Based mostly on true events, Misto’s play pits old age and treachery against youth and courage.
“I wanted to write a play that would be a lot of fun for an audience,” Misto, whose previous works include The Shoe-Horn Sonata and Harp on the Willow, tells SX. “I’d always been fascinated by Davis and Crawford, but people are locked into clichés about them. So I wanted to write a play about probably the four most famous women of the day, but find out what really made them tick.
“Hedda Hopper had actually asked Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to her house when they were just winding up filming Baby Jane, which no one thought was going to do very well. And she said to them, ‘We’ll have a wake for your careers’! Hopper was a bitch! And it was in the same week Monroe died so I thought, ‘Throw her in’!”
Misto also aims to dismantle the stereotypical view the zeitgeist has of Monroe. “We see her as this tragic heroine who had a romantic love affair with the Kennedys,” he says.“But actually, she was a lot more than that.”
Watch the preview for Dark Voyager
Of course, character names like Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe add a whole other dimension to the writing process. “It certainly raises an audience’s expectations,” Misto says.
“People remember All About Eve, so the dialogue has to be razor sharp and accurate. And of course with Crawford, you’ve got to deal with the issue of ‘did she or did she not treat the children badly?’”
A valuable resource for Misto was Crawford’s 1971 autobiography, My Way of Life. “It’s the scariest book I’ve read since Mein Kampf,” he laughs. “For example, on page 84 of the book, she talks about how a successful hostess will never place a red vegetable next to a yellow one. Now in the gay world, that line has become famous – and it does indicate how fairly psychopathic she was.
“But what’s truly interesting about it is she talks long and hard about her lovely children and how much they love her and she loves them, but the twins were about 16 and she was still putting them down for afternoon naps!”
However Davis was actually a worse mother, Misto tells. “One of her ways of disciplining her young children was to lock herself in the bathroom and pretend to have an overdose. She made Crawford look like an amateur.”
Directed by Anna Crawford, the Ensemble production stars Jeanette Cronin as Davis, Kate Raison as Crawford, Belinda Giblin as Hopper, and Lizzie Mitchell as Monroe. “Jeanette Cronin is spectacular,” Misto raves. “She looks like Bette Davis and I’m a little bit scared of her!”
Dark Voyager, Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, July 24 – August 30, ensemble.com.au
[Image] Lizzie Mitchell as Marilyn Monroe in Dark Voyager. Photo: Supplied