note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Truman … William Gardiner
Buddy … Chris Connor
Man … Bob Braswell
Sook … Helen-Jean Arthur
Woman … Emily Strange
Understudy for Sook … Scarlett Black
HOLIDAY MEMORIES is a lovely mood-reading of two celebrated Truman Capote stories where he looked back at his bittersweet Alabama childhood with his sixtyish, childlike cousin Sook and his dog Queenie. The Depression world around these three characters is harsh, both within the family circle and without; the Capote character (“Buddy”), Sook and Queenie create their own tiny Eden by going no farther than their kitchen door. In “The Thanksgiving Visitor”, Buddy learns a lesson in forgiveness when Sook invites the school bully to their house for dinner; in “A Christmas Memory”, Buddy, Sook and Queenie celebrate what will be, unknown to them, their last Christmas together --- a Christmas of homemade fruitcakes and homemade kites and an unshakeable, unbreakable bond between an old woman and a young boy; lost children, both of them.
Director Jim Petosa lets the stories tell themselves with “Truman” narrating to the audience and stepping aside for Buddy, Sook and Queenie to act out the dialogue (Sook’s demise earns our tears by simply not asking for them); the other characters appear as silhouettes, upstage --- most of them, menacing; the unseen actors advancing away from the backlight so their shadows loom up on the scrim, just as a shy, sensitive child would interpret them. Kenichi Takahashi has designed a worn little jewel-box of a set that allows a nice cinematic flow between scenes without a single stick of anything being shifted around under the audience’s noses, and Matthew Novotny’s soft, subdued light-palette is the visual equivalent of turning Mr. Capote’s pages.
William Gardiner, who has been absent from my theatre-going for way too long, is a warm, engaging narrator though how his confident, relaxed Truman ever grew out of Chris Connor’s crabbed Buddy is a mystery: Mr. Connor, who is nearly three times the age of what Buddy should be, has been encouraged to play him as a retarded runt from the Southern Gothic School (more Faulkner than Capote), especially in his hands which are twisted into ugly claws --- when he gestures, he does so with the backs of his hands, his fingers curled into their palms. Helen-Jean Arthur, who is new to me, contributes a kind, playful Sook with all of her marbles firmly in place; there is no sense of “otherness” about her where her truths are timeless, universal ones instead of the helter-skelter truths of here-and-now. (Queenie is a Cheshire dog: invisible, save for her bark.) But these flaws do not rend the show’s canvas; the Messrs. Vandenbroucke, Petosa, Takahashi and Novotny have created their own little mood-Eden, tucked away up in Studio 210 while, outside, holiday shoppers dash about in frenzied pursuit of merchandise; a visit with Buddy, Sook and Queenie is a gentle reminder of what the holiday season is really all about.