REVIEW: A Love Lost Life (Theatre Building Chicago)

‘Love Lost Life’ Fails to Explore the Brando Family Tragedies

 

David Barnes as Christian Brando-1

 

T.M.R. Inc. presents:

A Love Lost Life

by David Nathie Barnes
directed by Susan Felder
through March 14th at Theatre Building Chicago (more info | tickets)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

“The first two days with Marlon, I pushed him the wrong way, and as a result I lost him. He hated me, and it was my fault. I was too confrontational, too strong . . . All actors are frightened that they won’t give you what you want. It was a sad way for me to learn that even Marlon Brando was scared.

Frank Oz, on directing The Score

“He didn’t want to be treated like an icon. When you dealt with him you had to talk to him like a regular guy—he was very anti-Hollywood. But then the other part of him—he wanted a little gift to be brought. It was Persian caviar, imported cheeses and red wine. He loved it.

–Writer/director Bob Bendetson of Big Bug Man

“My family’s weird . . . We had new additions all the time. I’d sit down at the table with new people and I’d have to ask: ‘Who are you?’ Invariably they were a brother or sister I had never met.”

Christian Brando, to his probation officer

Beau Forbes as James Dean-1During the filming of “Last Tango in Paris,” director Bernardo Bertolucci became so overwhelmed at the range, rawness and immediacy of Marlon Brando’s talent, he momentarily lost faith in his ability to direct the intense, dynamic actor. Anyone who considers writing a full and accurate account about the Brando family must surely have as much trepidation. Even in his own words, Brando’s tangential and unreliable understanding belies a mind at the mercy of shifting moods, aspirations and desires. Plumbing the depths of his mercurial and inscrutable personality would require the expansive and agile faculty of Oscar Wilde and, without a doubt, the built-in, shockproof, shit detector of Earnest Hemingway.

Unfortunately, actor/playwright David Nathie Barnes only renders for us a meager slice of Marlon Brando’s life—with as many holes as Swiss cheese. But for the exception of a few well-written monologues, A Love Lost Life—the Unauthorized Story of Marlon Brando, overdoses on the kind of shallowness and superficiality one finds on E! True Hollywood Story. Especially in handling Brando family dynamics, so much goes unexpressed and undeveloped, it’s hard not to suspect that Barnes either has been cowed into pulling punches out of fear of litigation or is utterly blinkered in his characterization by poor-rich-kid clichés.

More’s the pity, because the talented cast of Theatre Building Chicago’s latest production is obviously capable of taking on more than what’s demanded of them here. Like a reigning triumvirate, Michael Perez, Jamie Asch, and Robert Ashkenas capture Marlon Brando at 20-30, 40-60, and in his 80s, respectively. Perez exudes the young, insouciant Brando, with all the defiant masculinity that awakened the ‘50s out of its white-bread stupor. Asch gives a full-throttle performance of an impossible Brando, nihilistically grinding down his career and personal life until “The Godfather” pulls him out of a rut. Ashkenas poignantly evokes an infirm, bloated and pathetic Brando, wheezing and rationalizing his way toward a regretful and sorrowful exit.

As an actor, Barnes strikes fire with his sullen, edgy interpretation of Christian Brando. Claudia Di Biccari sympathetically gives total commitment to the limited material as his doomed sister, Cheyenne Brando. Director Susan Felder has done her best to pull out humanizing characterizations from the cast. But strong performances alone can’t make up for lack of a dramatic structure hefty enough to pull together Brando’s groundbreaking, but uneven, career and bizarrely troubled family life.

Robert Ashkenas as Marlon Brando age 80 -1 Finally, it must be said, too often Barnes’ writing leaves holes a Mack truck could drive through. Accuracy vs. poetic license–yadayadayada–but nothing should be sacrificed from a drama that substantially informs its action or characters. Among the least of them: Marlon Brando had at least 11 children–legitimate, illegitimate and adopted. A Love Lost Life is written as though Christian and Cheyenne were the only ones. It’s as if, in play’s memory, the other siblings—and their impact on Christian’s mentality—have disappeared down a rabbit’s hole.

Then, there are Cheyenne’s struggles with schizophrenia, which Barnes’ play doesn’t acknowledge until well after Christian goes to jail for shooting and killing her boyfriend, Dag Drollet. The truth is, Cheyenne began having violent bouts of schizophrenia at 16, one of them inducing her to recklessly crash her car–an accident that so damaged her face, all her hopes for a modeling career were ruined. Most likely, schizophrenia influenced Cheyenne’s fallacious tales to Christian about Dag assaulting her, which in turn led to the shooting. Barnes cover none of this in his play.

Also not touched upon: a history of domestic violence in Christian’s own marriages; Christian’s stockpile of weapons, including illegal automatic weapons, that police uncovered in his home upon arrest; forensics which disclosed that Dag had been shot in the back of the head, not in the face in the middle of a struggle, as Christian confessed–that Dag died with his tobacco pouch in one hand and a TV remote in the other.

There’s more, so much more, to the Brando family saga than Barnes can tell or is willing to tell. It’s not just another spoiled-celebrity-children-gone-wild tale; it should never, ever be treated as one. Perhaps the answer lies, not in Brando’s chic home on Mulholland Drive, but in the unexplored chapters of Brando’s family life in Tahiti. Wherever it may be, nothing less than madness itself holds sway over this family. To dramatize this family’s story, one needs a playwright brave enough to head into that heart of darkness.

Rating: ★★

Audra Yokley as Marilyn Monroe

Audra Yokley as Marilyn Monroe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: