If only all his hopes were as easily fulfilled. Charles Marowitz, artistic director of Malibu Stage Co., has the play he wants, the actors he wants, and his own acoustically remarkable and wisely appointed theater in Malibu. These will be displayed in a staged reading Sunday night of Robert Brustein’s play, “Nobody Dies on Friday,” starring Ed Asner, a fund-raiser for the company.
“Way back when,” Marowitz says, he commissioned a play about Lee Strasberg and the various actors who studied with him. More recently, in New York for a conference, Marowitz happened to hear about Brustein’s play, which sounded much like what Marowitz had been asking for.
Brustein told Marowitz nobody in New York would touch the anti- Strasberg play because everybody on the East Coast had studied with Strasberg. In New York, Marowitz says, “He’s a god,” but in California, “Nobody has this hero worship of him.”
As soon as Marowitz read the play, he knew it was absolutely suited to a Hollywood production. What is the play about? “Star f***ing,” he says. Strasberg and his wife, Paula, had what Marowitz terms a syncophantic relationship with Marilyn Monroe, who spent a significant amount of time in their apartment. “She was a monster,” he says of Paula. “They both were. The play is unsentimental about them.”
The character of Monroe is never seen by the audience. The onstage characters include Strasberg, his wife and their two children, both of whom wrote “tell-all” books about their father.
Marowitz wrote to Asner, inviting him to star in the reading: “You’re not only my first choice, you’re my only choice. If you can’t do it, I’m left high and dry.”
He doubts this plea influenced Asner, however. “He’s the kind of guy who, if he liked the project, would do the project.”
The two had worked together when Asner had participated in a reading of Marowitz’s play about Freud and Reich. The actor has also participated in the Shakespeare events Malibu Stage Co. has produced.
Marowitz auditioned about 150 actors for this reading; he thinks the draws were Asner and Monroe. He cast New York theater actors: Barbara Gruen as Paula, with Jeff Goldman and Francine Vlantes as the Strasberg children, John and Susan.
These three actors will have at least three rehearsals. Asner was recently cast in another project and will have only one rehearsal. Marowitz has already corresponded with Asner about characterization ideas and interpretations of the play.
Marowitz is an honorary member of the Actor’s Studio in New York. When he attended sessions in L.A., he found them “a very different kettle of fish.” He also devotes a chapter in his book “The Other Way” to denouncing The Method.
So he can say with certainty, “The similarity between Strasberg and Asner is in their ascerbic nature. I was going for that salty quality, that persnickity quality.”
Marowitz calls Strasberg “a failed director” and says the couple used celebrity to enhance their career. “It’s very American and very pathetic.” Marowitz asked Asner not to go for sympathy but to go for antipathy.
Marowitz says he can get the full stage rights to the play, but he instead is holding a staged reading, “to see how it goes.”
The fund-raiser will also include a buffet, to be held under a tent at the theater. Next on the company’s schedule is a three-character play, which Marowitz hopes will star Nan Martin.
“We are anxious to get going with a real show, to stop doing all these fund-raisers,” he says.
Benefit performance, 7:30 p.m., Malibu Stage Co., 29243 PCH. $150 includes buffet catered by Monroe’s. Call 456.8226.