Truman Capote occupies a particular spot in the American imagination. The famous and gifted writer of the 20th century is perhaps best remembered for his own undoing. In seeking to adhere to his own high literary standards, he betrayed the trust of the wealthy and powerful friends who had helped to elevate him by revealing their secrets to the world. A flamboyant and witty personality, Capote wrestled with demons including alcoholism, drug abuse, and a desperate loyalty to the image of himself he had so painstakingly built up.
In the production of Jay Presson Allen's Tru at Zach Theatre, the audience gets to witness Capote's demise-in-the-making, but also some of the genius and tenderness that made Capote so fascinating, if not always likable. Jaston Williams plays Capote in all his glory, and it's a character that falls well within his range as an actor. While the expected idiosyncrasies of Capote are not always so polished – the high-pitched voice, the storied gait – Williams locates the heart of the character. Under the direction of Larry Randolph, the performance is engaging.
In Tru, we catch an occasional glimpse of the famous chapeau-and-glasses look that Capote made so much his own, as well as a few more flamboyant costume pieces (designed by Susan Branch Towne). The lighting design (from Jason Amato) lacks subtlety, highlighting each intimate moment with a noticeable downward shift, and the set (from Michael Raiford) seems as though it might have accomplished more in presenting the 1970s home of a collector. The focus of the production seems to have fallen more to the performance of the story than to the design.
The play's greatest strength is how it brings to mind all the people in our own lives – ourselves included – who attempt to disguise their vulnerabilities with a quick wit or catty remarks. Truman Capote may have been one of the most famous embodiments of this particular brand of American bitchiness, but the vulnerabilities of the man underneath the outward persona soften and even endear him to the audience. Witness his feeble and quick-tongued apologies to his former friends as he reads them aloud to the telegram operator: a man struggling to hang onto his pride as he rues the loneliness he has brought upon himself.
It is a thoughtful evening of theatre, one driven by the fascinating character of the man at its center.
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