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In a 1969 interview on The David Frost Show, a 45-year-old Truman Capote tried to elucidate the qualities that separate love, sex, and friendship with a patience and guilelessness that might still be permissible on a late-night chat show now, but perhaps only Stephen Colbert’s. His thoughts on the subject were likely informed by his close boyhood friendship with Nanny Rumbley Faulk, an elderly cousin who liked to address him as “Buddy.” He in turn gave her the name “Miss Sook” when writing about their relationship in a trio of largely autobiographical short stories.
Holiday Memories is an adaptation, completed in 1991 by Russell Vandenbroucke, of two of those short stories: “A Christmas Memory,” which was first published in Mademoiselle in 1956, and “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” which ran in McCall’s in 1967. Both had been previously reworked for other media, and “A Christmas Memory” has been the basis for at least two different TV specials and an opera. Several actors, not to mention Capote himself, have been heard reading the story aloud on public radio, so if this treacly tale of love among misfits in Depression-era Monroeville, Ala., during “fruitcake weather” sounds familiar, it probably is.
Vandenbrouke’s invention is to have Buddy/Truman onstage simultaneously as a narrating adult (played in WSC Avant Bard’s earnest new production by Christopher Henley) and as a boy (played by Seamus Miller). Henley evokes some of Capote’s genteel way of speaking without resorting to an impression. Charlotte Akin has a fey vulnerability as Miss Sook, who treated the shy Truman as a peer despite being several decades his senior. Both were shunned by their family: she for her anxiety, he for being bookish and a “sissy of sorts,” in his own phrase.These stories, separated by an intermission, capture the brief, happy period when Sook and Buddy (and Queenie, their dog, played by Liz Dutton) made fruitcakes together and got a little drunk on whiskey. A year or two later, Capote’s mother would reclaim him and take him to New York City, resorting both to psychiatry and to a military school to try to “cure” him of his gayness. You can see why he would yearn for the precious years he spent in the glow of an adult who loved and accepted him as he was.
Set and lighting designer Colin Dieck conjures up a sense of cozy rural remove and the benevolent editorializing of a cherished memory. But the script tends towards a mawkishness and exaggerated Southern comportment that the warm performances—especially from Akin—can only partially overcome. This isn’t a bad yuletide time-passer, but it’s not an essential one, either.
3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington. $10–$35. (703) 228-1850. arlingtonarts.org.