Friday, October 16, 2009

Holden's 'Capote' is a tour de force

JACKSON — I'm going to be honest: the idea of a one-man show about "In Cold Blood" author Truman Capote didn't have me jumping with joy. It sounded like the sort of vanity project that would make a good joke in a Christopher Guest movie. As the lights came up on "An Evening with Truman Capote," the return production of the recently reformed Jackson Players, I sat hoping for the best, but dreading the worst. I breathed a sigh of relief when my fears were proven to be misplaced.

"An Evening with Truman Capote," which had its world premiere at the Whitney Community Center in Jackson, N.H. Oct. 9, was written and stars Craig Holden, a local actor who will be a familiar face to regular Mount Washington Valley theater-goers.

Holden clearly spent a good deal of time researching his script, and the playbill cites several books he used during the writing process. The show appears to string together several interviews to form a narrative chronicling Capote's life from infancy to death. The play is set the day before Capote's death, with his "rational side" recounting his life directly to the audience.

Playing Capote is not easy. The danger in playing in Capote, a known homosexual, is to go over-the-top with the lisping, effeminate voice and broad hand gestures and body language. Holden obviously spent just as much time perfecting his Capote performance as he did researching Capote's life.

Holden gets the voice just right, it has the inflection, but it is effectively underplayed. The same goes for the body language. There's a fair bit of hand waving, but Holden never allows it to slip into a full-blown gay stereotype. It really is a command performance, and after a while you just accept him as Capote.

The show, directed by Gino Funicella, is less a play than an extended interview with Capote without the interviewer. Try to picture "In The Actors Studio" but without James Lipton supplying the questions. At a little over two hours, including an intermission, the show is over long and could have been tightened in places.

In the first act Holden lingers too long on gossipy subject matters like Capote's dislike of Gore Vidal. The point is made that Capote found Vidal to be a talentless writer, but then it is made again and again and each reiteration lacks the punch of the last.

There's also a lengthy section on Capote's thoughts on the Kennedys and a betrayal he felt from a member of that circle. This betrayal is the emotional end note of the first act and does deliver a powerful conclusion before the intermission, but the build-up is too lengthy and could've been even more potent with a bit of streamlining.

The second act is where the best stuff resides including the writing process of Capote's crowning achievement, "In Cold Blood." This is easily the most compelling part of the play and begins to offer some insight into Capote as a man and a writer.

The latter part of the second act shifts to Capote's downfall, a scandalous chapter of a work-in-process novel about celebrity that was published in Esquire. As with the "In Cold Blood" section, this proves to be fascinating and gripping viewing.

"An Evening with Truman Capote" may be meandering at times but it is also full of interesting tidbits such as Capote's disapproval that the film version of his novel "Breakfast at Tiffany's" starred Audrey Hepburn and not his first choice Marilyn Monroe. Capote's thoughts on Monroe are worth hearing. Portions about his childhood also add depth and power to the proceedings.

As is true with any one-man show, the success of the show falls on the shoulders of just one — and Holden's take on Capote should be seen. It is a performance that hits all the emotional notes from laughter through to tears, and he does it with no support. He is on stage alone and, at times, completely emotional exposed.

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