A Beautiful Child
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 10, 2007
The esteemed British actress and acting coach Constance Collier once called her famous pupil Marilyn Monroe "a beautiful child," and the new FringeNYC production that takes its name from that quote speaks right to the heart of that sentiment. Adapted from Truman Capote's non-fiction piece of the same name by actors Joel Van Liew and Maura Lisabeth Malloy, A Beautiful Child is a lovely play that gives audiences an inside look at one day in the lives of two of America's most well-known and intriguing figures.
The time is April 28, 1955, the day of Collier's funeral. The hoi polloi of New York society are in attendance, including Capote and Monroe, who sit in the back row of the funeral home together. Afterwards, the two set off on a day-long excursion through New York that includes a stop at a secluded Chinese restaurant on Second Avenue, a visit to the South Street Pier, and some lukewarm champagne. Along the way their conversation veers from show biz gossip to unexpected confessions and everything in between as both figures drop their protective public facades and show each other their true selves.
The emphasis here is on Monroe, as Capote and adaptors Van Liew and Malloy present several sides of this "platinum sex explosion." Capote reveals that Monroe is much like her idol, Elizabeth Taylor: "She wears her heart on her sleeve and she talks salty." Both qualities are evident as Monroe's mood swings liberally from fun-time-gal to morosely introspective in the blink of an eye, and she tells Capote "Fuck you!" more than a couple of times. Above all, we see Monroe's oft-talked about delicacy, a characteristic that perhaps made her feel things more deeply than others and made her highly susceptible to heartbreak and sorrow.
But, A Beautiful Child has plenty of lighter moments, as well. Capote and Monroe trade a pair of memorably salty stories about Errol Flynn, and director Linda Powell's decision to have the characters dance from location to location is a particularly clever, lighthearted, and, yes, romantic way of dealing with scene transitions (kudos also to choreographer Ben Munisteri for the fine dance moves).
The lion's share of the accolades, however, must go to Van Liew and Malloy, who not only do a nice job with the adaptation but also deliver superb performances as Capote and Monroe, respectively. Avoiding mere impersonation, the actors aim to capture the attitudes of their famous characters. Even though neither Van Liew nor Malloy resembles Capote or Monroe, both do such a convincing job of conveying each person's basic essence that by show's end one may feel as if they've spent the day with both also.
A Beautiful Child is so well done that I only wish it were longer. Clocking in at a compact 45 minutes, one feels a little sad to see it end since Capote and Monroe are such beguiling company. Perhaps Van Liew, Malloy, and Powell can see fit to expand it somehow—I got the distinct feeling that there was more material to mine from this scenario (or perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part). As it stands now, this trio of talented artists has put up a show that is immensely satisfying, and deserves a life beyond FringeNYC.