Truman Capote is not best known for his warm and fuzzy Christmas memories. His crime non-fiction book In Cold Blood (1966) is a far cry from the book this play is based on: A Christmas Memory (1956).
The place of his memory is, perhaps remarkably, the very same place To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee) is set: Monroeville, Alabama. Both Capote and Lee were childhood friends there in the 1930s when the Christmas Memory is set. Even now, it’s small place with just 6,000 inhabitants.
The programme notes are from a 2011 article in the Huffpost, written by Susan Eisenberg. She says “I feel grateful for its innate humanity and its rich, evocative language that might have ensured Capote a place among the great literary stylists even if he hadn’t written his adult oeuvre.” Capote wrote Memory when he was 32, and still a decade away from superstardom.
The story here is about a kid named Buddy, played with the right degree of innocence by Noah Griffin Brooks. Abandoned by his parents, he is taken care of by his cousin Sook Faulk, a kindly old lady played with incredible depth by Carol Hickey (she should get an award for this performance). The other person on stage is Truman Capote himself (played by Leslie Hethcox) who does a very admirable job of evoking the author. The others never speak to him in his Capote persona, as he is there to pull the strings and levers of the story like the Wizard of Oz. Sometimes he steps out of that role and becomes a character in their lives, like the eccentric Haha Jones. Touchingly, the hard-bitten Jones refunds Sook’s money for a bottle of bootleg whiskey so that she can make her 31 fruitcakes.
A key element of the play, Sook wonders out loud if Mrs. Roosevelt in the White House is serving one of them on Christmas Day. For she does not primarily give her fruitcakes to friends or relatives, but to people she admires.
The very simple pleasures Sook is able to offer Buddy, such as fried squirrel for Christmas breakfast, contrasts so much with modern living it can be hard for a 21st century audience to relate to this play. One must set the mind back before anything we are accustomed to existed. Buddy is bummed about the gifts he received, including a sweater and socks. But once his eyes look upwards, his outlook changes. Sook and Buddy fly kites, where their spirits can soar on Christmas.
The essence of the play is that the fixings of Christmas don’t really matter so much. What matters is the people who make those fixings, like Sook’s fruitcake and her little tree so carefully decorated. Usually staged every 2 years, this is a charming tale that has not been performed by the Alchemy Theatre since 2019 due to the pandemic. Go see it!
Truman Capote’s Christmas is playing thru Dec 16 at The Alchemy Theatre: 130 Pedernales St., Austin
Photo by C Cunningham: from l to r, Buddy, Capote and Sook