By Steven Snyder
A funeral ceremony, a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a bottle of champagne and a stroll along the South Street Seaport: “A Beautiful Child” is an enchanting glimpse at a most unusual day in the life of Marilyn Monroe, as captured through the eyes of friend and confidante Truman Capote. The play, directed by Linda Powell and based on Capote’s own non-fiction material, captures Monroe at her best and worst, and brings to life a moment in which these two famous icons let down their guard, and let each other in.
Recalling the story in first person, Capote (Joel Van Liew) sets the scene: A funeral for a friend and famous acting coach who, thanks to Capote’s introduction, took Monroe (Maura Lisabeth Malloy) under her wing, and subsequently dubbed her “a beautiful child.” Here, in the back row of a funeral home, Capote comes to see his acquaintance in a brand new light.
Capote marvels at the way Monroe arrives late to her mentor’s eulogy, admires the way she looks without makeup as she seeks to avoid bloodthirsty photographers downstairs, and reflects on how she could simultaneously reveal herself, as if an open book, and closes herself off in a haze of alcohol and pills.
Van Liew plays Capote with zest, strutting the stage before cocking his head to one side and looking to the audience from the corner of his eye, a glowing smile spreading across his face as if he’s letting us in on a secret about Monroe the woman, trapped forever within the cliché. Malloy, meanwhile, slides smoothly up and down the emotional register, in her most powerful moments achieving the effect of a woman caught unaware leading the audience to believe we are intuiting something about this icon that she cannot discern about herself.
It’s this understatement that disarms us. This is not a climactic meeting of the titans, but merely a short tale about two good friends talking away the afternoon. Capote sees her flaws, and Monroe doesn’t pretend to be an angel, but we see here an accidental snapshot of an amazing woman, someone far more interesting than any simple sex symbol. As Malloy slowly dances alone on stage, the house lights dimming for the final time, it’s hard not to marvel at what might have been.
“A Beautiful Child,” Thursday August 16, 3:30 p.m., Sunday August 19, 1:45 p.m., SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., 212-279-4488, abeautifulchildbytrumancapote.blogspot.com