NY Review: 'Monty Clift, the Rarest of Birds'

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Photo Source: Lee Smallwood
Writers John Lisbon Wood and Omar Prince have a dandy conceit for "Monty Clift, the Rarest of Birds." The one-man show begins with legendary film director John Huston locking Montgomery Clift in his trailer (and away from substances) on the German film set of "Freud," declaring that he can't come out until he's sober. What follows, however, doesn't make much use of the "Freud" setup—a film on which Huston and Clift famously battled—launching instead into a pretty standard, chronological consideration of Clift's life and career. Clift was a very interesting guy who knew and worked with a lot of other very interesting people, so that's not the worst thing they could have done. But if you know a fair amount about the actor, there's little here that's new or revealing.

The handsome Prince plays Clift in a respectable turn, though he hasn't found a way to suggest the actor's physical dissipation toward the end of his life. Director Bill Fabris does his best to keep the static situation active, but he isn't always able to help Prince navigate some of the sudden twists and turns of Clift's mind, which often aren't properly elucidated in the text either. There was no one credited for supplying the recorded voices—in Clift's head—of people in his life such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and, of course, Huston, but some are more successful than others and the device is employed too inconsistently.

Wood and Prince should also work to chart Clift's level of sobriety more carefully and clearly, as right now its variances feel convenient. More attention should be paid to detail: Elia Kazan's first name is pronounced with a long E, not a short one, though in any event Clift would probably be more likely to call him by his then-ubiquitous nickname, Gadge.

I'm glad to hear that the play is still a work in progress. There's potential here. I hope Wood and Prince keep refining until their show is worthy of Clift's good friend Nancy Walker's priceless reason for walking out on a screening of "Judgment at Nuremberg" immediately after Clift's one scene: "Let's get cheesecake," suggested the Broadway musical theater star. "Nobody's topping that."

Self-presented as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival at the Wild Project, 195 E. Third St., NYC. July 18–22. Remaining performance: Sun., July 22, 4 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.freshfruitfestival.com.