My knowledge of Truman Capote has always been somewhat limited. I know why the man is so prominent, important, and infamous. I know that he wrote the novels Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood. I know that he was a part of the New York social scene of the 1960s and 1970s. I know that his enigmatic persona is the subject of the films Capote and Infamous, both of which were released just months apart.
And that's about it. I've never read any of his books, seen any of the film adaptations of them, or seen either of the movies based on his life.
After seeing Tru, now playing at Zach Theatre in Austin, I have a thirst for all things Truman Capote. The one man show is extraordinary at giving the audience a glimpse into the troubled mind of the legendary Capote, and as someone with a limited knowledge of the celebrated author, I desperately want to know more.
The play, written by Jay Presson Allen and inspired by Capote's own words, encompasses a mere two days in the life of the famed writer. Esquire Magazine has just published a chapter from Capote's unfinished novel Answered Prayers, a look at the secrets and hypocrisies of the New York elite. Needless to say, many of the characters are inspired by Capote's real-life friends, none of whom are amused. Shunned by his former friends, Truman is now alone in his apartment on Christmas Eve, licking his wounds by drinking copious amounts of liquor and telling his story to an invisible audience. Jay Presson Allen's play wonderfully balances the wit and humor of Truman Capote while also giving us intense dramatic moments as we see how deeply wounded and alone Capote has become through the Answered Prayers fiasco, an event he never fully takes responsibility for. As he says at one point, "My lips are sealed. Of course, my typewriter can be very indiscreet."
While the work by set designer Michael Raiford, lighting designer Jason Amato, and costume designer Susan Branch Towne are all fantastic, this intimate play is carried by its sole performer, Jaston Williams. Best known for his work in the comedic Greater Tuna plays, Williams excels at portraying the charming but languishing Capote. He completely becomes the character in a way that is astonishing and eerie. Yes, Williams is able to give us the iconic, childlike, babyish Capote voice, but that's the least impressive bit of his performance. Watching him fall into a drunken mess of self-pity and angst makes for a breathtaking night of theater, and his attempts to cover up his emotions with a wry smile and humorous stories makes it all the more heartbreaking. Williams clearly understands and respects the character of Capote (as he should since he performed the play 11 years ago), and every moment, beat, and gesture feels entirely authentic and believable. I assume some of that success is owed to director Larry Randolph, but the direction and staging here is so effortlessly interwoven into the text and character that it's hard to separate it from the whole, and I argue that's the goal for a piece as delicate and intimate as this.
I've heard it said that we are our most authentic selves when no one else is around and it's just us with our thoughts. Perhaps that's why Tru is so effective. By giving us a one man play in which Truman Capote can contemplate his life and the people in it, Jay Presson Allen has given us a fascinating portrait of the famous writer. Buoyed by Jaston Williams's fearless performance, this production is not to be missed.
Photo: Jaston Williams as Truman Capote in TRU. Photo by Kirk R. Tuck.
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
NOTE: Due to adult content and language, TRU is recommended for mature audiences only.
TRU plays ZACH's Whisenhunt Stage at 1510 Toomey Road, Austin 78704 now thru March 10th. Performances are Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2:30pm.