Sunday, May 1, 2016

"Tru" - An Intimate Glimpse into the Life of One of America's Most Successful (and Flamboyant) 20th Century Writers

 Truman Capote Takes Center Stage in "Tru"
In "Tru," comedy and pathos cross paths in Jay Presson Allen’s dramatic sketch of Truman Capote, author of both the popular, light-hearted novella "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and "In Cold Blood," the chilling true-crime look into the murders of the Clutter family, first published in 1965.
Capote’s early predilection for the literary arts dates back to the age of eight, when he started writing. A few years later, he caused quite a stir with the publication of some embarrassing tell-all accounts about his townsfolk in a short story titled "Old Mrs. Busybody" that he submitted to a children’s writing contest.
The tale is a prescient prelude to the denouement of Capote’s social life and career that came later just after he reached the pinnacle of literary acclaim, a process that the playwright touches on his biographical sketch of one of America’s most acclaimed 20th Century authors.
Allen’s short title "Tru"  is especially apt in that it conveys the intimacy he captures in his one-man play. One would assume the diminutive Tru would be reserved for close friends, and that’s just how amazing actor, Eddie Korbich, treats his audiences - like familiar confidants rather than vague acquaintances.
This witty, fun-filled, yet sometimes dark, work is based on  Capote’s own words, interviews and writings, which trace his meteoric rise from obscurity in a small Southern town to a celebrity status that saw him hobnob with the cream of society despite his sometimes outrageous, in-your-face fey mannerisms and gay persona.
    Despite being an out-and-about homosexual dating back to the time when McCarthyism cast its dark pallor of repression over the nation, he later became close friends with what he called his swans, a gaggle of female intimates that included heavy-hitter socialites Lee Radziwill, Babe Paley, Gloria Vanderbilt and Lady Slim Keith.
Allen opens his play in Capote’s stylish New York apartment where large windows give him (and us) as august view of the East River and beyond, glimmering lights and all. (James Noone creates a credible, detailed set down to Capote’s collection of  books, baubles and eclectic taste in furniture).
    It’s Christmas 1975, and Capote is seen revving up for an evening on the town with Ava Garrdner and a bevy of companion revelers. With time on his hands before he starts out, he knits together biographical revelations and tidbits while conversing with friends on the telephone, recording a message about a perceived betrayal and, mostly, just plain taking to the audience as perceived listeners to his soliloquies
    In a haphazard manner, we learn about his troubled childhood, his parents’ divorce which sent him packing off to live with relatives, his friendship with author Harper Lee of "To Kill a Mockingbird Fame," his literary successes, his vibrant social life that took him into the homes and parties of the New York elite and his romantic entanglements.
    Armed with pleasant memories of a Christmas well spent with "Aunt Sook," which he later turned into a heartwarming tale titled "A Christmas Memory," a darker shadow looms just over the emotional horizon in the form of remembrances of his past holiday disappointments and disasters, including his mother’s suicide one Christmas day.
Eddie Korbich Stars as Truman Capote in "Tru"
Korbich restrains his character’s fey mannerisms just enough to prevent them from going over the top but still manages to definitively convey with colorful flourishes and flounces just what team Capote played on. He captures his character’s likeability, eccentric playfulness and manic, high-energy personality as well as his vulnerabilities, speaking his pithy lines with the whisper of a lisp, with confidence and spot-on comedic timing.
Act One is the more festive of the two episodes. As Korbich fills up his cocktail glass with vodka and carelessly tosses in an ice cube or two, he moves around his spacious apartment telling tales, often unflattering but still spicy and humorous, about himself, his moneyed friends and former bedmates. It’s party time, and Capote appears up to snuff.
However, an almost Aristotelian sense of tragedy and fall from grace seeps into Act Two when we learn of Capote’s literary faux pas, a much too informative expose of some of the indiscretions and unmentionable escapades of his high society friends, written too thinly disguised in an unpublished work titled "Answered Prayers." Allowing a chapter of the book to be published in "Esquire Magazine" proved his undoing, earning him banishment and exile from the good graces of his former confidants.
The fact of his Icarus-like fall is just starting to set in during the holidays when has his entreaties for forgiveness fall on deaf ears, his telegrams professing friendship go unanswered and his efforts to mend broken relationships seem futile.
As he prepares to go out and join an alternate group of friends, he puts on a happy face, dances around the room, then dons his gay apparel (iconic fedora included) and sashays out into the night. As Korbich exits the stage, he hits home in a remarkable way the feeling that gravitas is hiding behind a veneer of mock joviality.
The production flows as smoothly and fully as the top shelf vodka Korbich pours into his character’s cocktail glass. Where the actor’s considerable talent inextricably merges with director Ted Pappas’ impeccable direction is difficult to determine, but the end result is much like a perfect martini - tasty, satisfying and emotionally stimulating.
"Tru," a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater, is at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh, through May 22. Phone 412-316-1600 or www.ppy.org.




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