REVIEW: “MARILYN, MOM & ME” - Yankee Hill Productions

Updated: Apr 30

"Funny, Dark, Heartbreaking, and Unforgettable!"


“Marilyn, Mom and Me” — a new award-winning play by author/playwright Luke Yankee, benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS with a cast of Broadway and Hollywood actors, will be online for four days only beginning April 27th, with a final performance available May1st at 2pm. The show explores the unique relationship between Yankee’s mother, actress Eileen Heckart, and her deep, but short-lived friendship with film icon Marilyn Monroe. In this warm, funny and highly entertaining virtual presentation, this masterful storyteller and performer will regale you with not only the glitz and glory of the spotlight, but also some of the heartaches of life.


In 1956, when Marilyn Monroe was cast as the lead in the film "Bus Stop," a romantic comedy-drama film directed by Joshua Logan for 20th Century Fox, Marilyn was the biggest star in the world. She had taken the previous year off to study with Lee Strasberg and had become the poster child for “method” acting. The tough, no-nonsense, Broadway character actress Eileen Heckart was cast as her best friend in the movie.


As a part of her newly discovered style of acting, Marilyn was determined to make Eileen her best friend – both on-screen and off. Reluctantly, Eileen went along with it for the sake of the film, but ultimately found herself emotionally entrenched in the life of Marilyn Monroe. For all outward appearances, Marilyn had it all. And yet, more than anything, she yearned to have what Eileen seem to take for granted: a stable marriage with kids, and a respected Broadway career.


In the movie, Marilyn played Chérie, a saloon singer whose dreams of stardom are complicated by a naïve cowboy who falls in love with her. For the role, she learned an Ozark accent, chose costumes and make-up that lacked the glamor of her earlier films, and provided somewhat mediocre singing and dancing. Broadway director Joshua Logan agreed to direct, despite initially doubting her acting abilities and knowing of her reputation for being difficult.


The filming took place in Idaho and Arizona, with Monroe "technically in charge" as the head of Marilyn Monroe Productions, occasionally making decisions on cinematography and with Logan adapting to her chronic lateness and perfectionism. The experience changed Logan's opinion of Monroe, and he later compared her to Charlie Chaplin in her ability to blend comedy and tragedy.


From the 1940s to her death in 2001, Eileen Heckart, tall, thin, and with dimples to die for, was one of our most talented actresses. The winner of an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Golden Globe, Ms. Heckart was equally adept in movies, TV, and theater, though it’s her career onstage that truly made her a show business legend. Like her friend Shirley Booth, Ms. Heckart was versatile in all areas, as a sardonic comedienne (as in her many Jewish mother portrayals) or as the pathetic lonely heart pulling at the viewer’s sympathy. A perfect example of this was her performance as the lonely postmistress in the classic 1957 TV drama “The Out-of-Towners.”

After her parents separated at age 2, she was adopted by her grandfather, whose surname was Heckart. She graduated from Ohio State University in 1942 with a degree in English, and that same year she married John Harrison Yankee Jr., an insurance broker. They had three sons in a union that lasted 54 years, unusual for a feisty, independent lady of show business.


Beginning in summer stock, she apprenticed in a number of obscure plays/revues on the NY stage, and eventually established herself as a major force on the Great White Way. Her first big break under the Broadway lights was her portrayal of the arch, lonely schoolteacher in William Inge's "Picnic," which earned her both the Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards in 1953.


Heckart was suddenly in demand then as flinty, overwrought, down-to-earth types or wise-to-the-bone confidants. During this period she fell into a number of dowdy matrons, dour moms and matter-of-fact gal friends with flashy roles in films like "Somebody Up There Likes Me," "Hot Spell," "Heller in Pink Tights," and, of course…"Bus Stop." Later award-worthy Broadway hits would include "The Bad Seed" (which earned her the Donaldson award), "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (Tony-nom), "Invitation to a March" (Tony-nom), and "Butterflies Are Free" (Tony-nom). Intermixed were live performances on TV for such prestigious programs as "Goodyear Television Playhouse", "Kraft Television Theatre", "Studio One", "Suspense", "The Alcoa Hour", and "Playhouse 90."

In addition to her Academy Award, she also won two Emmy Awards for “Save Me a Place at Forest Lawn” and “Love & War,” and a Golden Globe Award for “The Bad Seed.” She also received a special Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2000, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She appeared as a Vietnam War widow in the Clint Eastwood film "Heartbreak Ridge" in 1986 and played Diane Keaton's meddling mother in the 1996 comedy film "The First Wives Club." Eileen made her final acting appearance in 2000 at age 80 in an off-Broadway production, “The Waverly Gallery,” in which she played the leading role of an elderly grandmother with Alzheimer's disease.


All this while managing a life and career with her husband and three boys in Connecticut, and serving as a mentor and teacher to Luke when he wished to become an actor. Talent-wise, her legacy lives on in her son. A skilled actor and director, Luke Yankee has also become a noted playwright and a first-rate writer, and is the author of her 2006 biography “Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart.” His plays include “The Last Lifeboat,” “Confessions of a StarMaker,” “The Man Who Killed the Cure,” “The Jesus Hickey,” “Diva Dish!” “A Place at Forest Lawn,” “Diva Dish: The Second Helping,” and “Marilyn, Mom & Me.”


Alisha Soper as Marilyn Monroe

Luke Yankee's critically acclaimed new play about his mother and her intense friendship with the enigmatic and illustrious Marilyn Monroe on the set of “Bus Stop” is, of course, based on his own true story.


The sublime cast includes the versatile Robert Cuccioli as the frustrated director Joshua Logan, Arthur Miller, Don Murray, 1st A. D., Studio Executive and more; the marvelous Laura Gardner as Eileen Heckart, complete with gravelly voice and consistently straightforward attitude; the incredible Lorrie Odom doubling as Rosetta LeNoire and Ella Fitzgerald; Brian Rohan in a beautiful performance as Luke; the dynamite Alisha Soper as Marilyn Monroe in a remarkable transformation down to the smallest detail; and Jordan Mills, completing the terrific cast as the Narrator and Stage Director.


The Producer is Don Hill and Writer and Director is Luke Yankee. John Pinero is Stage Manager/Video Supervision, and Mitch Hanlon is Musical Supervisor.


This deeply personal comic drama is a layered, affecting exploration of the enigmatic and illustrious Marilyn Monroe and focuses on her strong friendship with Eileen. Distinctly, her brief relationship with Marilyn during the filming of "Bus Stop" serves as a provocative catalyst, but the star in “Marilyn, Mom & Me” is actually Eileen Heckart. But when one’s mother is an Oscar-winning character actress who has worked with nearly every star from the Golden Age of Hollywood — including the legendary Marilyn Monroe — how can one not share that story?


What is most engaging about the play is not that it’s so much a salacious Hollywood tell-all. Rather, we see three home truths: One, Marilyn as a sweet compassionate girl who desperately wanted a friend, and who found one in Eileen Heckart. Two: emerging clearly in Luke Yankee’s tender remembrance of his mother is her brash toughness and self-confidence masking a deeply vulnerable pain that ran nearly as deep as Monroe’s. And Three: more than that, the play is a touching portrait of a son searching for his mother.


This virtual presentation of “Marilyn, Mom & Me” by Luke Yankee is LIVE online from April 27th @ 2 pm PST through Saturday, May 1st @ 2pm PST at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyyBIy_cgbI... as a benefit for Broadway Cares.


To make a donation to Broadway Cares, please go to: https://donate.broadwaycares.org/fundraiser/3176315. And you may also follow further developing events regarding the show at www.marilynmomandme.com.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report