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Excellent 'Memories' Being Made By Town Players



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Excellent ‘Memories’ Being Made By Town Players

By Julie Stern

The Town Players have chosen to end their season with a beautifully crafted rendition of Holiday Memories, Russell Vandenbroucke’s dramatization of two autobiographical stories by Truman Capote: “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and “A Christmas Memory.”

Together the stories offer a glimpse of Capote’s childhood during the Great Depression, when his mismatched parents left him, soon after his birth, to the care of three elderly unmarried cousins who lived together in their old family homestead in rural Alabama. In particular, they focus on the unusual but deeply rewarding friendship between seven-year-old Buddy and the youngest of the cousins, Miss Sook, a woman in her sixties.

Buddy is sensitive, intellectually precocious, and something of a sissy, prone to being picked on by his fellow second graders. Miss Sook is eccentric, painfully shy, and treated as an encumbrance by her brother and sister, who support the family by running a dry goods store.

Together, the two are best friends, playing cards, roaming the woods, planning hopeful projects, and discussing Buddy’s love of the movies and his dreams of becoming a Hollywood musical star.

Vandenbroucke’s staging is minimal: Alexander Kulcsar, representing the voice of Capote as an adult, sits at a table to one side, narrating the stories. A chest in center stage serves variously as a bed and a piano. A window and table convey a country kitchen, and a transparent screen behind all these allows for the pantomiming of bits of action – a classroom encounter, a visit to a bootlegger, a holiday party, etc.

The effectiveness of the production depends on Capote’s fine prose, combined with the skill of the actors. In this case, director Mary Poile has gotten exquisitely crafted performances from her two leads – Erik Bagger as Buddy, and Martha Bishop as Miss Sook. Each one is wholly believable, and true to the author’s intention.

I’ve seen this show before, but I can’t imagine it done any better.

In addition, Scott Poarch and Cadi Poile, using wigs and costume changes, take on the roles of numerous minor characters who figure in the two stories. Doug Miller’s tinny piano musical arrangement provides a fitting background.

For those who have not yet discovered him, Capote is a magical writer, whose bittersweet stories capture the joy of meaningful relationships, along with the hard truth that fragile moments do not last forever, except in memory.

Happy as they are in each other’s company, Sook is growing older, and Buddy will be sent away the following year, to the succession of military schools that his remote family decides will reshape his character. Thus the two stories, so vividly captured – in which Miss Sook invites the bully who has been tormenting Buddy to join them for Thanksgiving dinner and the account of their last Christmas together, beginning with scraping up the nickels and dimes needed to make thirty fruitcakes to send to “friends,” ending with an exchange of homemade kites because neither one has money to buy the gifts they really want to give – are relegated to the voice of memory. It is a comic, moving, and wistfully evocative voice.

Note: While Capote is fine for high school readers, this is not really a show for younger kids.

(Performances conclude this weekend. Shows will be performed Friday and Saturday, December 3-4, at 8 pm, and Sunday, December 5, at 2 pm.

Tickets are $15 for the evening shows, $12 for the matinee. Town Players perform at The Little Theatre, on Orchard Hill Road in Newtown; telephone 270-9144.)

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