Boulevard of Broken Dreams
With "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Boston playwright Lesley Anne Moreau puts a fun spin on "No Exit," Jean-Paul Sartre’s austere tale of a claustrophobic after life, by bringing film celebs who died young together in a locked room. Happy Medium Theatre Company production of Moreau’s play is a world premiere.
"Hell is other people," Sartre’s famous line from his existential classic written during the Nazi occupancy of Paris, has resonance for these characters as well. The philosophical insight touches on the sorrows of their lives on Earth, but with a difference. These Hollywood stars individually have an unbroken spirit despite their various woes. So they bring a sense of humor, a human openness, and a zest for living to the weird situation that gives Moreau’s two-act play its energy and appeal.
It’s a kick to hear from James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sal Mineo, Heather O’Rourke, and River Phoenix giving their take on their own lives, as well as seeing how they get on together. Moreau’s nicely paced direction gives the actors ample time to indulge the audience’s interest in the nuances of these fabled people, (Moreau also did the smartly apt costuming, such as having Monroe wear the white dress from the famous subway grate scene from "The Seven Year Itch").
The entertaining production of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," with its moments of blithe interplay and insightful performances, continues its two-week run through Aug. 20 at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.
The play’s title refers to a cabaret number from the 1934 movie "Moulin Rouge," in which glamour queen Constance Bennett sings hauntingly of "madness in the guise of gladness." It is likely more familiar to today’s audiences from the version that the late, troubled singer Amy Winehouse covered effectively. That she also died young adds to the reasons why her version of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (or better yet, in my opinion, Bennett’s) would have been more effective as a prelude to the play than Green Day’s jarring rendition.
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams," which was also the title of a James Dean bio, for the purpose of the play refers to Sunset Boulevard, the street in L.A. that has been a center for entertainment as well as the city’s red light district. Moreau says that she was inspired by hyper realistic contemporary artist Gottfried Heinwein’s watercolor "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," a reinterpretation of Edward Hopper’s subtly bleak painting of people sitting in a diner late at night "Nighthawks."
The characters enter their afterlife experience chronologically. A sign posted on the wall in the rather sparsely decorated room informs them that this locked door space will remain home to them until they can determine what the five of them have in common.