Remembering Nonnie Griffin

Photo from Bluffs Monitor.

 

Nonnie Griffin and I became mutual fans, from opposite sides of the stage, while working on two different productions at Alumnae Theatre in 2008: she as the formidable Irish matriarch in Lucy Brennan’s Daughter of the House and I as the compassionate, no-nonsense oncology nurse in Margaret Edson’s Wit.

I had the pleasure of seeing and reviewing Nonnie’s work in the years that followed; and particularly enjoyed her own one-woman shows Sister Annunciata’s Secret and Marilyn—After, both brave, resonant portraits of older women navigating life’s joys and heartbreaks. And she came out with two friends to see me perform in The Sad Blisters this past April (on Easter Sunday); she enjoyed the show very much and sent me a lovely email, along with a big virtual hug.

Nonnie was to launch her new one-woman show, Before Scarlett—about the creation of Gone with the Wind, told from the perspective of author Margaret Mitchell—for one performance at the Heliconian Hall on June 19. Now that she’s gone, we’ll be celebrating her life and work instead.

She was a classy, brave and frank professional; funny and insightful—and supportive of fellow artists. Her candid, creative spirit will be missed.

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Marilyn Monroe in the first person: Nonnie Griffin’s remarkable Marilyn – After

Nonnie Griffin as Marilyn - B&W by Yuri Dojc © - 720 x 1024
Nonnie Griffin as Marilyn Monroe – photo by Yuri Dojc

Frank Sinatra music plays over the speakers. A single pale blue velvet upholstered chair sits centre stage, accompanied by a side table with a goblet of water. A man in a suit and bow tie (David Roche, also assistant to the producer) walks to the bottom of the staircase. And then she appears at the top of the stairs – bright, blonde and sparkly, dressed in white and ivory.

What if Marilyn Monroe came back to tell us her story, in her own words?

This is exactly what actor/playwright Nonnie Griffin does in her one-woman show Marilyn – After. Produced by Crazy Folk Productions and Fern Densem, and directed by Peggy Mahon, the show opened to a full house in the Tallulah’s Cabaret space at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre last night.

Monroe, who adored older people and never had a chance to grow old herself, takes the stage as an older version of herself to share stories of her life: her personal history and milestone moments, and her thoughts and emotional responses as the events of her life unfold. From her heart-wrenching childhood of living in aunts’ homes, in an orphanage and various foster homes; to struggling with extreme sexism and sexual harassment to establish a career in Hollywood; to her rocky marriages and relationships with lovers, film successes, and an untimely and suspicious death at 36, Marilyn – After is more than a mere history of an icon.

Channeling Monroe with every gesture, facial expression and intonation, Griffin gives a moving and entertaining performance. A high school drop-out, but a fierce reader, and smarter than she was ever given credit for, Monroe was deeply insecure about her talent – even as she showed great professional chutzpah in the face of industry bastards. As Griffin evokes both the star and the woman, we see a Marilyn who wanted more than a stellar career as an actress – we see a woman who wanted to be loved, respected and find family. No wonder Monroe is such a huge gay icon – and Tallulah’s is the perfect space for this show.

Marilyn – After is a poignant, funny and engaging piece of first-person storytelling, told with truthfulness, respect and love by the remarkable Nonnie Griffin.

Marilyn – After runs Friday, Oct 10 – Sunday, Oct 12 and Thursday, Oct 16 – Sunday, Oct 19 (no shows Mon, Oct 13 – Wed, Oct 15) – weeknights at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. You can purchase advance tickets online at Buddies or by calling 416-975-8555.

Get yourself out to Buddies and see this show – please note the early curtain time for weeknight performances. In the meantime, take a look at the Globe and Mail video piece on the show.