Truman Capote was a strange and interesting man. I have memories of seeing him on television, when I was a kid, memories mainly of the nasally voice, the lisp, the fey affect, and above all, the superior, dismissive tone that seemed to infuse his every word and gesture. My younger self found him both fascinating and repellant – his wit and charisma were thrilling, while his malicious, cutting disdain felt toadish and icky.
That Truman, alas, is not much on view in Jay Presson Allen’s 1989 one-man bio-play Tru. Instead, we get a much gentler version of the man, fussing about his recent fall from grace among his wealthy patrons after he published a story à clef about them in Esquire magazine in late 1975. He natters anecdote after anecdote about the many famous and infamous people he’s had the good fortune to cross paths with as he drinks his way to terms with his new status as a persona non grata.
Eddie Korbich does a good imitation of Truman Capote, but it’s not an uncannily great one; the simper and the giggle and the skip may all be true to form, but the edge of arrogance and condescension is missing. Instead, he gives us the genial, flamboyant, gay-comedian version of the man.
Making Korbich’s job infinitely tougher is the question of why we should care about Truman Capote and his social ostracism in the first place. I can see why this play might have won a Tony Award in 1989, just five years after Capote’s death, when he was still in the cultural memory and – let’s not forget – open discussions of homosexuality were still relatively rare on stage (that would have been a year before Angels in America premiered at the Taper!). I’m hard pressed, however, to see what makes this play compelling to a present-day audience, other than as a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
I get that the Public needs its annual “one-hander” to fill out the season with a production that’s easy on the budget. But I’m willing to bet artistic director Ted Pappas could find solo-performer scripts that speak more pithily to the present moment. May I suggest a perusal of the Kilroys list?