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Paulanne Simmons

Lord Buckley Meets Marilyn Monroe at Richmond Shepard Theatre

"Lord Buckley & Marilyn"
Directed by Richmond Shepard
Richmond Shepard Theatre 309 E. 26th St. at 2nd Ave.
Opened Nov. 4, 2009. Closed Nov. 28, 2009.
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM .
Tickets: $18, $10 for students and seniors (212) 684-2690
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 27, 2009

Richmond Shepard as comedian Lord Buckley.

"Lord Buckley & Marilyn" is a double treat for those who love stories and the people who tell them. "Lord Buckley," the 25-minute curtain raiser, features theater veteran Richmond Shepard as mid-19th century comedian Lord Buckley, while the second part presents Leslie E. Hughes as film star Marilyn Monroe.

When he was 29, Shepard met Lord Buckley at The Club Renaissance in Los Angeles. Shepard also knew the legendary hip comedian, jazz storyteller, semanticist and sometime philosopher during his final two years. And Buckely has served as an inspiration ever since. Dressed in impeccable tails, Shepard charms the audience with both his personal magnetism and his ability to reproduce the material Buckley made famous in his night club acts and his many appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

In "Jonah and the Whale" and "The Naz," Shepard finesses a Buckley staple, the retelling of biblical stories in African American jive talk. The Naz is Jesus, who says things like, "I told you stay cool didn't I babies?" In "The Four Chairs," Shepard asks four members of the audience to become his puppets in a comic routine. And in "God's Own Drunk," he brings the audience back to the heady days of Prohibition.

The jump from Lord Buckley to Marilyn Monroe is not nearly as big or unusual as one might imagine. Both had personas that were stage creations having little to do with the actual performer, although Buckley died at 54 in 1960 and Monroe died at 36 much more prematurely and tragically. In fact, the two actually appeared together in the movie "We're Not Married" starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen.

Leslie E. Hughes as film star Marilyn Monroe.

"Marilyn's Second Chance," by Willard Manus, is a funny, poignant and thoughtful portrayal of this complicated beauty who was narcissistic, vulnerable, self-destructive and highly intelligent all at the same time. Manus's well-written narrative imagines Monroe after she's been divorced twice and dumped by two Kennedys. She is about to audition for Tennessee Williams' "Orpheus Descending," and is nervously rehearsing in between explaining why she is so desperate to get the role.

Hughes, in a blond wig and sexy negligee is certainly a sight for sore eyes. But don't be fooled; she gives a polished performance of the volatile sex goddess whose mood swings from the depth of despair to the heights of ecstasy. Monroe is doomed, of course, and everyone knows it. But Hughes makes the audience wish that somehow she had been given that one last chance.

"Lord Buckley & Marilyn" proves that good theater does not depend on the bells and whistles of special effects, fancy projections or expensive scenery. All it needs is talented performers engaging the audience with a darn good story.

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