“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning” are the opening mood-setting words in the resplendent, gentle WSC Avant Bard production of Holiday Memories by Truman Capote.
As directed by Tom Prewitt, Holiday Memories is storytelling at its finest, a portrait that many in an audience might well recognize from their own youthful days. Holiday Memories is full of softly glowing memories of lively innocence and friendship with a much older cousin named Miss Sook one moment; then darkly brutal moments of “outsider” loneliness as the object of deliberate cruelty the next.
The stage version of Holiday Memories is the work of playwright and adapter Russell Vandenbroucke. Vandenbroucke reimagined and melded together two autobiographical Truman Capote short stories that focus on his early life in Alabama. [and as a young real-life friend of author Harper Lee yet]. The short stories were Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” (Originally published in Mademoiselle magazine in December 1956) and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” (published in the November 1967 issue of McCall’s magazine).
Vandenbroucke centered Holiday Memories on two different periods in Capote’s life. The play presents Capote as the seven-year-old Buddy (Capote’s real-life nickname) with the middle-aged Truman. The two characters meet-up in a mash-up memory-play set in 1930’s rural Alabama when Capote (1924-1984) was a young boy and recently abandoned by his mother and father.
The young Buddy character and the older Truman character are aware of each other’s existence and communicate with each other, but not in some dreamy, gauzy way. Sometimes they even correct one. The other characters in Holiday Memories are not aware of the older Truman, only aware of the young Buddy.
Without given away dialogue details, one piece of dialogue jumped out and seemed a key for the possible genesis of Capote’s writing skills. As older Truman recalls; “My friend has never been to a picture show, nor does she intend to.” And her response: “I’d rather hear you tell the story, Buddy.”
But a fine production is way more than just words on a page. In a wise, almost restrained revelatory performance by Christopher Henley as Truman, there is a simple luminous to his depiction of a flesh-and-blood being.
As Truman, Henley is a narrator looking back on memories of his childhood experiences. He speaks in a cadence that is a painted picture of Capote’s written language; full of visual and aural rhythm, alliteration, and splendid choices of adjectives and adverbs. His physical mannerism – especially the choreographed use of hands that not quite flutter and are not overly flamboyant – lengthen the sounds of words. He is simply magnetic – even when just standing quietly outside the on-going action.
Séamus Miller plays Buddy, Truman Capote’s both buoyant and harassed seven-year-old self. Miller’s character loses fights to the schoolyard bully (Devon Ross), but living a mostly lively life under the gentle guidance of older cousin, Miss Sook. In a quiet scene, Miller responds to the local bully (Devon Ross) calling him a “sissy.” He waits a beat and without a nasty, shout-out response or fist-flying, he signals with a gentle nod that word somehow and unknowingly resonates with him at least as narrator Truman suggests. Miller does nicely representing a young man knowing there is a better life “out-there” somewhere beyond his life in rural Alabama.
The always wondrously distinctive Charlotte Akin plays Miss Sook, the 60-something distant cousin and BFF of young Buddy underpins the production. Full of wisdom and faith, Miss Sook is also a very tricky eccentric, if not the child-like part of Buddy’s growing up with some of their innocent relationship giving off a bit of creepiness – at least from my contemporary eyes. Akin’s Miss Sook commands attention and she takes a more difficult path as she inhabits her Miss Sook as a spiritual being.
Liz Dutton plays the many other female roles in Holiday Memories giving each a different personality through her delivery of her lines and how she physically carries herself. She also gets to play one very energetic small rat terrier dog named Queenie.
Colin Dieck’s set and lighting design use the squeezed confines of the Theatre on the Run stage to great advantage in recreating Depression-era in rural America. His set is warm and homey. It is all we need to be transported back to 1930’s Alabama. There is also a walkway at the rear of the set that separates inside from outside used to great advantage.
Danielle Perston’s costumes includes period outfits such as short pants for Buddy, shapeless clothes for the women and a detailed, snappy 3-piece suit with red lapel flower for the older Truman. Jeffrey Dorfman has a sound design that transports the audience easily into time and place.
Prewitt and the Avant Bard cast and technical team, have built a burnished radiance into Holiday Memories. It is a three-dimensional representation of Truman Capote’s well-known Southern storytelling skills. The production “seduces and beguiles with his astonishing details” – using the worlds Prewitt wrote when he compared Capote’s writing skills to William Faulkner’s in his Holiday Memories program note.
Holiday Memories is a splendidly drawn production with great richness and beauty. It has a tenderness even when presenting tough issues. It is a show without artifice even with its sincere presentation. Holiday Memories should easily snuggle itself deeply into the hearts of Baby Boomers and Millennials alike.
During these very tough times, take a break and escape into the magical world of WSC Avant Bard’s sublime Holiday Memories. Savor it for the short time it is here with us. It will fill you with hope and the holiday spirit and some new fond memories.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
Holiday Memories plays through December 20, 2015 at WSC Avant Bard performing at Theatre on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.
David Siegel’s 5 star review of ‘Holiday Memories’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Holiday Memories’: Part 1: Séamus Miller.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Holiday Memories’: Part 2: Liz Dutton.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Holiday Memories’: Part 3: Christopher Henley.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Holiday Memories’ Part 4: Charlotte Akin.
Meet the Cast of Avant Bard’s ‘Holiday Memories’ Part 5: Devon Ross.
An early, fruitful interview with Truman Capote in the 1957 spring/summer edition of The Paris Review.