by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea in Jacksonville Beach offers theatergoers a rare opportunity to experience the Florida premier of Jay Presson Allen’s Tru. The production is a look into the life of literary genius Truman Capote, American author of novels, stories, and screenplays. His best-known works include Breakfast at Tiffanys (1958) and In Cold Blood (1966). Capote died in 1984, and your knowledge of this once flamboyant favorite of the glittering world of high society may have faded, and for theatergoers under forty, may not even exist. Dual Critics recommends visiting www.playersbythesea.org and clicking on the Tru link to the public library, where you will find a wealth of references that will enhance your enjoyment of this play.
The play debuted on Broadway in 1989 and with 297 performances was a very successful non-musical New York play. It starred Robert Morse who won a Leading Actor in a Play Tony award, as well as a Drama Desk award for Outstanding One-Person Show. From New York, Morse took the play Boston and Los Angeles. The play has never been published, and the daughter of the late playwright has been very selective about releasing the rights. Fortunately for Jacksonville audiences, Players was successful after a lengthy vetting process.
All the action takes place in Capote’s upscale New York apartment located in the United Nations Plaza with a gorgeous view of the East River and the New York skyline. The set by Designer Bryant Grand, with skyline background by Scotty Chesnut and set decorations by Holly Gutshall, is designed to replicate the real-life living room of the author, with polished wooden flooring, a Victorian sofa, and massive bookshelves. A Christmas tree and musical selections – “Blue Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas” – help anchor the time period.
It is Christmas Eve, 1975, and Capote, now on the downside of his career, and “famous for being famous” is alone and brooding. He has been ostracized by many of his society friends because of the publication of excerpts from a book in progress, “Answered Prayers,” in Esquire Magazine; the pieces are thinly veiled accounts of the social and sexual exploits of the Super Rich. He is surprised and hurt at their response; his position is that since he is a writer, his friends and acquaintances must have known that his observations would be published.
Capote relates his woes by telephone conversations, and by talking directly to the audience while roaming all over his apartment, pointing out some of his treasures, like his ash tray collection, and his book, occasionally taking pills, and drinking a lot.
He brags that he is known to everyone and does a lot of name dropping. His neighbors have included Johnny Carson and Robert F Kennedy. His social set included the rich and famous; actress Ava Gardner, William & Babe Paley, the Vanderbilts, the list goes on and one. He refers to some of his acquaintances with their nicknames and we as the audience may be lost as to whom he is talking about. His rambling narrative bounces back and forth from his youth to the present day. He lets us know he wrote his first novel when he was only eight. He asserts he has never had issues with his homosexuality, and frets about his relationship with Jack, his past lover and still best friend after many years.
To mount this production, Executive Director Joseph Schwarz has well-known St. Augustine Director Jean Rahner making her PBTS debut. Her superb direction has resulted in full use of the expansive stage by the actor, so this one-person play never becomes static.
Players has brought in New York actor, journalist, and producer Patrick Christiano to take on the demanding impersonation of the unique Capote personality. Christiano captures the quirky Capote’s style of speech and manners to the letter, pulling out all the stops to convey a full range of emotions with intensity. After the initial few words, we truly felt that Capote was by turns sharing both his public persona and his private life with us.
The play is interlaced with humor. Capote was a very quotable character known for his wit, which is why he was so popular with the cocktail set and on TV shows in his declining years. Christiano brings out this aspect also, sometimes with deadpan delivery, eliciting laughter from the audience. Some of our favorites were: “Life is like a modern written play with a lousy third act” and “Fame is good for one thing, cashing a check in a small town.”
Tru will be on the stage until December 17th. It is a detailed, subtle and intense portrayal of a talented artist, lurching between the past and present and facing a future compromised by alcohol and drug use, who is both proud of his achievements and agonized by his memories. A most interesting evening of theatre, don’t miss it.
Players is located at 106 Sixth Street North, Jacksonville Beach Florida. Call 249- 0289 for reservations.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM