If you imagined that at this late date there’s nothing left to say about Marilyn Monroe, you may want to think again. In “Marilyn in Fragments,” a compressed one-hour show at the Laurie Beechman Theater on Tuesday evening, the rising cabaret singer Marissa Mulder wove passages from Monroe’s diaries and 20 songs into a compelling portrait of the star in a confessional mood.
“Marilyn in Fragments,” directed by Sondra Lee, is more of a theater piece than a traditional cabaret show with musical numbers interspersed with applause. Ms. Mulder delivers a theatrical monologue in a stream of consciousness while her brilliant accompanist, Jon Weber, speaking only a few words, plays the role of sympathetic therapist. Their rapport is distilled in a rendition of Tom Waits’s woozy barroom song “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” with an arrangement that takes a sudden left turn into dissonance.
Ms. Mulder, wide-eyed and curly-haired, makes a bewitching and slightly scary Monroe, whose name is never mentioned in a narrative devoid of gossip and name-dropping. The character she presents is an emotionally wounded little girl whose body is the one thing about herself that she understands and trusts.
This woman-child clings to Hollywood dreams even though she knows better. Her infatuation with movie stardom is reflected in a rendition of “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” whose double vision evokes the allure and the false promises of fame. The tone of Ms. Mulder’s remarkable performance swings wildly between fear and defiance, with one angry outburst.
“Marilyn in Fragments” does not aim to please. This downbeat psychological portrait is uncomfortable to watch because the rawness of the performance is so believable. Ms. Mulder portrays the creature hiding behind the glamour that Monroe wielded with such confidence as a frightened, defenseless animal.
Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” the song that sums up the show’s X-ray vision, captures its barely suppressed anguish and despair: “Everyone I know/goes away in the end,” she sings, then adds: “I will let you down/I will make you hurt.”