by Ron Cohen · October 5, 2013
The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL will be at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 2 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Artist Ron Cohen looks at Monty Clift, The Rarest of Birds written by John Lisbon Wood and Omar Prince, performed by Omar Prince. One of the most difficult challenges in starting to write a one-person show -- especially one about a real-life figure - may well be finding that crucial moment or circumstance that will motivate the character to talk for an hour and possibly much longer, with no one else around - or at least not visibly around. John Lisbon Wood and Omar Prince have found just such a perfect moment in their Monty Clift, The Rarest of Birds, their script about the celebrated and equally tortured film star Montgomery Clift. With Prince portraying Clift and Wood directing, the show was an offering of the United Solo Theatre Festival.
It’s 1961, and in a German film studio, Clift -- ravaged by failing health, addiction and the horrific automobile accident that distorted his compellingly handsome face -- is filming Freud, his next to last movie, portraying the father of psychoanalysis. John Huston, the dictatorial director, has locked the actor in his dressing room to sober him up. And who should appear in Clift’s imagination but Dr. Freud himself. Who better for Clift to tell his life story to?
What follows is a chronology of Clift’s life and career, from his bumpy childhood and his early successes on the stage to the triumphs and tribulations of his work in Hollywood. It also covers the actor’s homosexuality, his relationships with various women -- his overbearing socially pretentious mother, his Svengali-like acting coach Mira Rostova, the torch singer Libby Holman and his closest friend of all, Elizabeth Taylor -- as well as numerous other fellow actors and directors.
The script gives Prince plenty of opportunities to express a broad range of emotions - despair, giddiness, outrage, among them - and he plays them to the hilt. He falls to the floor maybe half a dozen times, pounds the furniture and yells a lot. He also gets to impersonate many of the personalities that journeyed through Clift’s life. His Elizabeth Taylor impression isn’t so great, but his Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe are pretty good, and his John Huston, prerecorded and coming from offstage, is truly eerie.
As for Clift, Prince, with his more solid leading-man looks, doesn’t much resemble Clift, and his persona exhibits little or none of the hushed sensitivity that marked Clift’s best work. But it‘s a monumental performance - perhaps more in the manner of John Barrymore than Clift - that will hold your attention. And there is a beautiful closing when after all the talking, Clift falls silent, with great concentration puts on a false beard and costume, and walks back to the set, an actor transformed and ready to find the truth in his acting.
In its conscientious plowing through Clift’s movie-by-movie history - amplified by behind-the-scenes tidbits - the show at times seems little more than an old-time fan magazine meshed inexplicably with a scandal sheet. It should be catnip for devotees of old-time movies. It wouldn‘t be a bad idea to tape or film it and present it as a special event on Turner Classic Movies.