Dallas — Truman Capote is famous for at least two aspects of his complex persona. He was the witty, lyrical creator of the iconic novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, as well as the brilliant, obsessive author of In Cold Blood, a novelized account of a real murder serialized in The New Yorker and published in mid-career in 1966. He was also a flamboyantly open gay man in an era when most homosexuals were desperately closeted. Witty and charming, he became a celebrated, sarcastic talk-show guest, adored and trusted by rich and powerful friends like Jackie Kennedy’s sister Lee Radzowill and William and Babe Pale—who, when they opened their doors to him, apparently forgot he was a writer above all else.
In Jay Presson Allen’s 1989 one-man play Tru, directed by Marty Van Kleeck based on the direction of the late Larry Randolph, is onstage in a must-see production at Theatre Three. Jaston Williams, co-creator of the phenomenally successful Greater Tuna plays, portrays Capote as he returns to his Manhattan apartment on Christmas Eve, 1975. Esquire magazine has just published his thinly disguised stories of wealthy socialites, sometimes naming names and neuroses outright. Here, Williams recreates the role he first performed a dozen years ago and reprised in 2013 at Scott Zach Theater in Austin, both directed by Randolph. Presson’s play, meticulously constructed almost entirely from Capote’s work and TV appearances, is a fascinating and challenging work for any actor, and Williams’ performance is hilarious, wrenching and spot-on.
Capote, who died in 1984, was a man of many phases, and Williams shifts easily from the bitchy narcissist who asks someone on the phone, “Is anything happening to anybody besides me?” to the lonely celebrity beset by many demons, including alcoholism and drug abuse. After all, Williams regularly plays half the townsfolk of Tuna, Texas, when touring in the popular plays. But as Tru, he digs deeper and reaches further into his character to find a defiantly determined artist and a touchingly vulnerable human being.
Williams’ is a subtle performance, no easy task considering the many exaggerated mannerisms, languorous southern drawl and queenly persona Capote created for himself. Capote was a tiny man, 5’ 3” and thickening in his middle years. Williams is convincing physically, aided by a padded undersuit and a number of Capote-esque accessories, from a handsome Japanese kimonos to his trademark black hat and glasses, created by costume designer Bruce R. Coleman based on the design of Susan Brach.
Most endearing is Williams’ superb comic timing in delivering a quip—or finding the fine line between a man indignantly defending his integrity as a writer, and a shaky, lonely alcoholic trembling with remorse that he may never recover the friendships of the two or three smart rich women he truly cared for. He laughs and wheezes and coughs nervously as he phones in a telegram of apology in his touching attempts to make up with people, most of whose lives he considered shallow and vacuous.
Williams is never melodramatic or stagy in his depiction of a man who certainly understood how to seduce any audience, from dinner tables to talk shows. Instead, he drops the fourth wall immediately and draws us all into an engaging conversation, moving naturally from chair to bar to sofa in the theater’s intimate in-the-round space, never neglecting any section of the four-sided theater in an astonishingly sustained and skilled solo performance. Jac Alder’s detailed set design is rich and eccentric, featuring handsome needlepoint cushions, Victorian chairs and a silken yellow upholstered fainting couch, as well as crystal baubles and gilt-framed photos of the author’s famous friends.
Mesmerizing in his easy drawl and suddenly restless hands, Williams’ Tru smiles tenderly recalls happy childhood memories of his beloved Aunt Sook, as he reads from A Christmas Memory. Then his voice gets higher and his body tenses as he revisits some of Capote’s darkest memories, including witnessing an execution. We may not like the Capote who drops names and barbs with guiltless glee, but we certainly understand why so many people were taken by him again and again. Williams’ exquisitely crafted performance has that same zest and charisma as the man he embodies.