A Christmas Memory Off Broadway Style

Last evening, December 17, 2014, my sister, Jo-Ann  and I went to see an off Broadway production of Truman Capote's story, "A Christmas Memory" at the DR2 (Daryl Roth 2) Theatre (The Irish Repertory Theatre). I smiled from beginning to end, though occasionally the smile turned downwards. for there were some bittersweet moments. It was clearly a collaborative effort among 7 outstanding actors, at least 3 musicians (I say at least, because they are artfully placed behind the lovely and simple set and we never actually see them, though they are a recurring audio-presence, adding so much to the whole of this production), the author of the book written for the play, based on the book by Capote, the composer of the music and the lyricist who wrote the words to 16 beautiful songs, some sung in unison, others by just one of the actors or a duo or trio with pleasing harmonies, humor, warmth and sincerity, and last but not least, Queenie, the cute little dog that intermittently graces the stage. All of these parts come together as an outstanding whole, which I would call a Play with Music, as opposed to a Musical, This reminds me of the blog I wrote about 5 years ago, "Next to Normal",for which I also had a very hard time fitting into one specific theatrical genre. Suffice it to say that both were completely satisfying theatrical experiences. 

The 7 wonderful actors were all new to me, with the exception of Alice Ripley, whom I absolutely loved in her Tony award winning performance as Diana in the 2009 production, "Next To Normal". In the book, "A Christmas Memory", the story is told by Buddy (based on a young Truman Capote), about himself and his relationship with his much older,distant cousin, Sook. Their relationship is the center of both the book and the play, and it is its heart and soul. Alice Ripley did such a beautifully subtle interpretation of cousin Sook in her pure feelings of love and friendship for Buddy, as well as her innocence, which seems to others in the family as childlike, not responsible, but, in reality, it is she who was responsible for giving her friend, Buddy, the assurance that there was someone in his life who looked after him and cared for and about him. I also really liked how Ripley's Sook dealt with her expression of her religion, in a straightforward, honest and non-confrontational way. It almost made me want to believe like she did. 

In this production, the other characters who are more or less just referenced in the book, are brought to life to support and expand on the core relationship between Buddy and Sook. I just loved the adult Buddy, played by Ashley Robinson. He was not only believable as the man you would imagine young Buddy becomes, but also as Truman Capote, whom Buddy did become.There was something in his smile and the twinkle in his eyes, behind those round, black glasses, that brought authenticity to his role as the adult Buddy and as Capote, himself. and that bonded the characters of Buddy, young and older. The boy who plays Young Buddy was also true to the character in Capote's small tender book. This young actor, Silvano Spagnuolo's performance, was fresh and real and filled with an innocence and wonderment that I think was much more present in a child of 1933 than one in 2014. I am not sure that it is so easy for a young child actor to accomplish all of this, but, accomplish it, he did. And what's more, I couldn't take my eyes off of him because he so closely resembled the son of a nephew (hint-hint Eran and Daniel). 

Sook's sister, Jennie, also Buddy's cousin, pretty much rules the roost in this spreading old house in Monroeville, Alabama, made warm and "homey" by Sook, yet cold and unyielding by Jennie. Jennie is as strict and demanding as her sister, Sook, is loving and easy-going. However,there is a wonderful song sung by Nancy Hess, the actress who plays Jennie, that besides for being a lovely song, serves to make her character into a more dimensional person, allowing the viewer to see beyond her harsh rigidness and into her heart's desire for young Buddy to become his greater self. I didn't want to see Buddy sent off to a military school and I am sure it was pure hell for the real Truman Capote, as a sensitive, creative young boy, but this song helped me to understand that what was behind Jennie's decision was, in her own way, love. 

Virginia Ann Woodruff plays the family's maid, Anna who acts as a conduit between the present time of the play,1955 and the past, 1933, In the present, 1955, the adult Buddy, comes back to the homestead out of nostalgia and to conclude some concrete business and an aging Anna immediately bonds with the grown up Buddy, whom she hadn't seen for so many years. Her songs and choreography add ragtime and blues to the musical mix. Samuel Cohen is wonderful as three very different characters in the play, adding integrity and humor to the production. The final character is the young girl who we know to be in real life, Harper Lee, Buddy's neighbor and friend. They have a kind of coy, love-hate relationship that boys and girls of a certain age have. Taylor Richardson plays Nelly Harper with  vivacity and charm.

In conclusion, I am grateful first and foremost that Truman Capote, originally Truman Streckful Persons (I would have changed that name too) saw fit to write the little gem of a book, called "A Christmas Memory" in 1956. I am grateful that The Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City saw fit to make the book into a gem of a Play With Music in  2014. And I am grateful that I have a sister who shares my sensibilities, such that she appreciates both of these gems as much as I do. Until "fruitcake weather" comes again...I am a grateful reader and theater attendee...

"Imagine a morning in late November"
  ~Truman Capote
  ~ and Sherril Smoger-Kessous


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