“Holiday Memories” is no sentimental journey.
How could it be? The play, on Live Theatre Workshop’s stage through Dec. 29, is an adaptation of two Truman Capote short stories. Sentimental Capote’s writing is not.
Rather, this piece, adapted from “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and “A Christmas Memory,” is a look back at a chunk of Capote’s boyhood in Alabama and is written with sharp insights, tender emotions and gorgeous language.
Director Rhonda Hallquist got out of the way of the story and fashioned a production that lets the language and the characters blossom.
The conceit of the adaptation by Russell Vandenbroucke works: A grown-up Capote (Cliff Madison) narrates, telling the story as it is acted out. Often the characters take over the telling with their dialogue, but Capote is always there to fill in the details where needed.
And what glorious details. Describing Aunt Sook, the childlike older woman who is the younger Capote’s friend: “Her face is remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by the sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.”
The first act covers Thanksgiving, when Aunt Sook insists that Buddy — Sook’s name for the younger Capote — invite the school bully for Thanksgiving dinner. The second centers on Sook’s and Buddy’s annual fruitcake baking and cutting down of the Christmas tree.
Buddy is an adolescent played here by Pima Community College student Chris Fernandez. Fernandez embodied the innocence of the young Buddy without ever trying to act like a child — a wise decision on his and the director’s part.
Miss Sook may have been dimwitted, but Carlisle Ellis did not portray her as anything but a 60-ish woman with childlike qualities. That, too, is a wise decision.
Madison’s older Capote has a warm, folksy demeanor — not attributes one would apply to the writer, but ones that work perfectly in this context.
Other characters wander in and out of the stories, and Matt Brown and Candace Bean nicely delineated them as they changed from person to person.
Last weekend’s opening-night performance was a bit flat, but you can almost understand — Tucson skies were just drying up after a couple of days of rain. Our rains can be exhilarating, but they can also be exhausting.
“Holiday Memories” isn’t your typical holiday offering. But the stories are evocative of the holidays and full of tenderness and grace.
And Truman Capote’s words. That’s a pretty special gift.