Playwright, director, actor, slam poet — Seth Jarvis has racked up a number of accomplishments in his onstage career so far. In fall 2013, Jarvis launched a theater series called Playmakers, in which local writers and performers read works-in-progress. This spring, he directed O, Caligula! for Saints & Poets Production Company. He does outreach work for the Vermont International Film Foundation, and fellow film geeks remember him as the longtime manager of Burlington's late, great Waterfront Video. This month Jarvis can put another notch on his belt, even if the credit goes to a "random email."
Swiss actor David Imper, who lives in Cologne, Germany, wrote to Jarvis requesting a copy of Icon, the latter's one-man play about the mid-century movie star Montgomery Clift. (Seth's brother, Nathan Jarvis, performed it magnificently at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts in 2012.) Jarvis happily obliged.
"I sent it to him, he liked it and they had it translated into German," Jarvis relates. This summer, 36-year-old Imper will perform the piece in Cologne's Bauturm Theater.
Turns out the word "icon" didn't translate, though, Jarvis says — at least not in the sense he intended it. "They thought to call it Monty," he says, "but the theater said people might confuse it with Monty Python."
In the end, Imper settled on the straightforward title Montgomery Clift. After this run, "Imper said he'll try to do it in a couple other places," Jarvis says.
What's in it for the Vermont playwright, besides being able to claim an international production? "I got a good-faith advance and will get royalties," Jarvis reveals. "We're not talking big bucks, but it was still lovely."
It's no secret that Hollywood movie stars are household names around the globe. But Montgomery Clift, not so much. "I was fascinated by the idea of someone who was as famous as you can get, and yet, 50 years later, he is obscure," Jarvis told Seven Days multimedia producer Eva Sollberger for a Stuck in Vermont episode in 2012.
In the 1940s and '50s, the handsome actor was known for playing "moody, sensitive young men," according to his obituary in the New York Times. Along with Marlon Brando and James Dean, Clift was one of the first "method" actors. He turned in some, yes, iconic performances, and was nominated for several Academy Awards. What the public may not have known is that Clift commanded unusual control over the terms of his career — refusing to sign deals with studios, often drastically revising the scripts he was given and being extremely choosy about the roles he accepted.
The actor never quite recovered from a car accident in '56 that altered his appearance and led to drug and alcohol addiction; some have called his final decade a long, slow suicide. Clift's roles became fewer, his behavior erratic. His final film was a cold war thriller titled The Defector, which wrapped production in April 1966. The Omaha-born Clift died in July of that year, at age 45.
Icon — or Montgomery Clift — presents the actor after his fateful accident, bandaged and drinking heavily. Nathan Jarvis delivered a riveting performance. If you want to see the closest German equivalent, head to the Bauturm Theater this July.
Back in Burlington, Seth Jarvis will be working on a new piece titled Transitions, commissioned by the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. He'll do an initial reading at the end of August, he says. "Then, over three months, I'll be working with other actors and developing it. We'll present whatever has been developed at the end of November."
Transitions is aptly named: It takes place in a living room and involves multiple sets of characters. "There's always someone moving," Jarvis says. "The idea is that it will always be unfinished."