note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
“Holiday Memories,” Russell Vandenbroucke’s stage version of Truman Capote’s nostalgic memoirs about his agrarian Alabama childhood during the Depression Era, lost some of its charm at New Repertory Theatre’s recent production, which closed Dec. 23.
Although these two bittersweet tales of Capote’s 1932 childhood Thanksgiving and Christmas memories are seamlessly strung together in two acts, they’re fraught with loss and fear, balanced by the joys of sharing simple tasks with Miss Sook, his childlike, shy, sexagenarian spinster cousin.These two homespun reflections of Capote’s youth appeared as short stories in major magazines in the 1960s, and later in movie and stage productions.
However, this production neutralizes their impact.
Perhaps the flaw lies in the production’s casting - not the cast.
Under Michael Hammond’s direction, veteran Boston actress Adrianne Krstansky’s portrayal as Miss Sook is sweetly sympathetic and loving to her “abandoned” 7-year-old relative, whom she nicknamed Buddy, after her childhood best friend. “I’m 7, she’s sixtysomething,” he declares fondly.
(Capote’s young mother left to pursue a college degree and his father was immersed in business schemes. Divorced, they left the 6-year-old boy in the care of his three spinster relatives and their brother in Monroeville, Ala.).
Adult (Capote) narrator Marc Carver is mirrored by and shares narration with his child self, enthusiastically portrayed by Michael John Ciszewski, but their tales fall flat, probably because Ciszewski is a tall young man (the actor is a sophomore in Boston University’s Theatre Arts program), who’s playing a 7-year-old. When “little” Buddy fears going to school, cringes at bully Odd Henderson’s attacks and name-calling, it’s incongruous, especially when the bully is even bigger than he is; yet he’s supposed to be a slightly older child.
When Miss Sook cuddles and comforts Buddy after the bully taunts and beats him, Ciszewski’s emotional responses are boyish, but he’s too big to be believable. And when he and Miss Sook run hand-in-hand, through forests and swamp to cut and drag a Christmas tree, gather pecans, or go to town, then later to a shady-looking shack-bar-cafe to buy whisky from Indian Haha Jones for the 31 fruitcakes Sook makes annually for Christmas gifts, they look incongruous.
Jesse Hinson and Elizabeth Anne Rimar round out the cast, portraying multiple characters, while Queenie the Dog adds authenticity as herself.
Jon Savage’s varnished, planked set, with its fold-up beds and background story-book drawings, handsomely sets the play’s tone, mood, and era.
So do Molly Trainer’s simplistic costumes, with their 1930‘s scally caps and knickers, modest housedresses, sweaters, and hats in this dually narrated, two-act trip through Capote’s (and senior theatergoers’) Memory Lane.