Holiday Memories, by Russell Vandenbroucke, based on stories by Truman Capote. Directed by John Sowle. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
". . . see the sense of my notion."
Nancy Rothman, Steven Patterson, Christopher McIntyre; photo: John Sowle
Seven-year-old Buddy, living with relatives but not his parents, sees the world through ancient eyes. He is smart and clever, not always bright, but always aware and alive. As remembered by his much older self, Truman, the two major holidays of that year were seminal in creating the man he has become and most of that is due to the influence of an ancient cousin known as Miss Sook. It is the age of the Depression, and the locale is rural Alabama. The stories center on Thanksgiving and Christmas and deal with the issues of friendship, generosity and a belief in the goodness of people known and unknown. In this two-act play based on Capote's stories "The Thanksgiving Dinner" and "A Christmas Memory," playwright Russell Vandenbroucke addresses the issues of early maturity and late-blooming ideology in a tender and involving way, giving us a charming holiday play that opens its heart and, in turn, opens our own. On stage at Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, New York a very talented group of artists brings the characters to genuinely sincere life.
Directed by John Sowle the play, just under two hours, amuses, entertains and enlightens as he moves his people from location to location through the adjustment of set pieces provided by designer Marc Swanson. Moved visibly by the actors the play is transformed into a unique style of "story-theater" with a simplicity that never grows old. Sowle's other major contribution to the play is the restraint imposed on all the actors to keep them real, especially the two performers who transform themselves into many characters during the course of the performance, Louise Pillai and Andrew Joffe.
Joffe's first-act character, Odd Henderson, is a nasty, tricky fool of a country boy who abuses Buddy any time he can. His second-act character (one of several) is a small-time country bootlegger named Ha-Ha Jones. While Joffe himself is always physically the same person, his characters emerge as totally different people and that is a tribute to his ability as an actor. Odd is quick and quirky and deliberate while Ha-Ha is oddly diffident. It is as though two actors are playing these very specific parts, but there is only one and he has characters in him that Joffe releases as needed.
Pillai has many of these same qualities, sometimes honestly sweet and sometimes remarkably tart. Playing someone haphazardly interested and playing somone overwhelmed by generosity but unable to express it she is equally moving and effective. These two actors carry the context of the play and they make the central stories work through their fine manipulation of our reactions through their interactions.
Andrew Joffe and Christopher McIntyre; photo: John Sowle
Louise Pillai, Steven Patterson, Christopher McIntyre; photo: John Sowle
Steven Patterson plays the narrative voice of Truman Capote with a straightforward simplicity that tells us from the outset that he a story-teller with a tale that has turned his life around. He maintains the voice of memory beautifully at all times, even when he becomes personally involved in his youthful reminiscences. It's a warm and charming performance.
Miss Sook Falk, Buddy's ancient cousin, is transformed by Nancy Rothman. This actress takes vulnerability and near second-childishness into the realm of the sublime. Without a single false note or movement she brings to life one of American literature's truly sweet characters. Miss Sook is in love with her itty-bitty young cousin and in her treatment of him as an equal she forgets who and what he really is to her and they become close friends whose relationship becomes an ideal marriage of minds and hearts. Rothman makes this real without ever stepping over the line and endangering that human reality which gives us love without boundaries.
Christopher McIntyre is not seven years old. He is a tall, thin young man who allows us to believe that he is a small, seven-year-old growing up in the shadow of his somewhat taller elderly cousin. His is magical in his performance of this child who grows up to be the strange literary figure who authored these tales along with "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and other, grimmer novels. In his Buddy McIntyre allows us to believe in the intelligence and strengths of a young person stretching himself into early adulthood. This is a very, very nice performance and one that must be seen to be cherished.
Altogether, this early Christmas gift from the young company in Catskill is a lovely alternative to yet another "Christmas Carol" or any other more traditional Holiday show. It's a short run, which is really too bad, for it is an experience not to be missed.
Holiday Memories runs at Bridge Street Theatre, 44 West Bridge Street, Catskill, NY through December 18. For information and tickets contact the theater at 518-943-3894 or go on line at bridgest.org.