Truman Capote was a very good writer. He was also an odd little person.
In the Invisible Theatre's production of Tru, even though playwright Jay Presson Allen has put this extended monologue together with bits and chunks of the actual words of this writer, we don't get a sense that he was a brilliant writer. We do get a strong sense that he was an odd little person.
And that really seems unfair.
Please, make no mistake. Chuck Yates, the actor who inhabits the character of Tru in IT's production, is not at fault. He does a very impressive-and credible-job of inhabiting the odd man, and, because the odd man was witty and smart, Yates fascinates and entertains richly.
The situation plays out in two acts over a couple of days before Christmas in 1975. Capote is alone in his United Nations Plaza apartment overlooking the East River. He has had great success with In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's. He has been published in magazines; his short stories have been well-received. We learn that he has been working on what he considers will be his masterpiece, Answered Prayers, for twenty years, missing deadlines repeatedly, and so has allowed Esquire magazine to publish a chapter which reveals some gosh-awful things about real persons, some very wealthy real persons. He says he holds the wealthy class in great contempt, but he is great chums with some of its members. So, after the Esquire event they have angrily deserted him. He claims he just doesn't understand why they are so angry. As he states, "All my life, I've told things about myself that would make a baboon blush blue." He's a writer; shouldn't they have known he was collecting material? "I am an artist and I am writing a masterpiece and they are wrong."
So he plods around in his apartment, making and receiving phone calls on a nifty rotary phone with two lines. He tries to order flowers as Christmas presents and is offended when he's told it's too late. He receives a "horse trough" of poinsettias (excellent work on props here), which offends him, because poinsettias are the "Bob Goulet of Botany." He doesn't even open the card to see who sent them, and moments later, he places the trough outside his front door, calling the lobby guy to request he make sure they will be given another home. He never stops moving—fluttering, shuffling, tongue darting. And he drinks. A lot. Vodka. Losing glasses of the substance, pouring more, finding the originals later. He doesn't stop talking. That's in the first act. In the second act, he doesn't drink, but he still doesn't stop talking.
He relentlessly speaks of who he is and who he thinks he is historically and currently. He's self-deprecating and funny and he is forthcoming about—well, just about everything. There is both a childish and childlike quality as well. He might be a low flying angel or a demon delighted with a balloon. Allen has Capote reveal some of his personal history, allows us to listen to his side of phone conversations, watch him do things one might do when alone, has him speak directly to us. Although entertaining, ultimately it's very unsettling, and at some point, we begin to wonder if all this is really giving us an understanding of who this man is in anything other than his oddness. It's almost like we become voyeurs, and this is a peep show.
Again, this is a very good production. It's the play, which by its nature holds the possibility of a genuine engagement with the man, peculiar though he may be, but gives us merely the peculiar, and it just feels weird.
The play uses a convention for Truman's going on about his life. As he wanders around talking aloud, he is recording his words for his biographer. At other times he speaks directly to us. He tells us that he has always talked to himself, so the recording thing really becomes more a contrivance. Just let him talk to us directly. That's the point anyway.
Directed by Larry Raben, the play is paced well, the set by James Blair and Susan Claassen is wonderful, transforming the small stage into a lavish apartment. (Although, the LED lights on the Christmas tree are an anachronism.) Yates' performance is truly outstanding.
So, go see it, and if you don't mind feeling a bit like you might be witness to what you shouldn't be, you will be entertained quite well.