Elvis Presley recorded "Blue Christmas," that famous expression of loneliness and heartache draining the joy from a celebratory season. Elvis' simple lament, however, merely scratches the surface of what author Truman Capote was feeling in the waning days of 1975.
As detailed in Jay Presson Allen's solo show "Tru," the man made famous by such works as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "In Cold Blood" was spiraling downward, having used his art to commit social suicide. After Esquire magazine published "La Côte Basque 1965," an excerpt from his long-gestating novel "Answered Prayers," the wealthy society women who had been among his dearest friends stopped speaking to him, unhappy that their confidences had become the thinly disguised stuff of gossip-fueled literature.
And in "Tru," which will run through the holidays at Palm Beach Dramaworks, a defensive Capote is just beginning to come to grips with what his life as a pariah will be like.
Directed by Lynnette Barkley and starring Rob Donohoe, "Tru" offers an amusing, sobering and sometimes poignant portrait of a once-great writer whose last years were spent peddling his famous-for-being-famous persona on talk shows. Allen's 1989 play, which brought a best actor Tony Award to star Robert Morse, mixes fact, reminiscence, gossip, exaggeration and some actual Capote quotes in its depiction of a self-destructive, impossible yet irresistible personality.
Set and lighting designer Paul Black re-creates Capote's United Nations Plaza apartment, with its sweeping view of Manhattan, and costume designer Brian O'Keefe outfits Donohoe with Capote-like flair, including hats, sunglasses and a colorful scarf. An imposing Christmas tree, which gets fully decorated between the first and second acts, lends a festive air to a lonely refuge in an increasingly inhospitable metropolis.
Donohoe, who stands taller than the 5-foot-3 Capote (as did the 5-foot-10 Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Oscar for playing the writer in 2005's "Capote"), approximates the author's distinctive, high-pitched voice. He swans around the apartment, answering or making phone calls (a staple of one-person shows), accepting delivery of a "horse trough" of poinsettias (which he dubs the "Bob Goulet" of botany), playing a snippet of "La Vie en Rose" on the piano and doing some unsteady dancing to a succession of tunes on his stereo.
Drugs are taken, alcohol consumed, and in between dishing dirt and reflecting on his childhood, he tries to justify his betrayal of such society pals as Barbara "Babe" Paley and Lady Nancy "Slim" Keith by observing, "People who hang out with artists do so at their own risk."
At 51, Capote defiantly declares, "I'm about as delicate as a pit bull." Yet what he does not realize, as his world is unraveling, is that he is in his final decade. By 1984, the slow suicide of drugs and alcohol would end his life.
"Tru" is certainly not the most powerful solo show ever devised (also, worth noting for the sake of accuracy, it contains an anachronistic reference to the 1978 Jonestown Massacre). Yet Donohoe and Barkley make a couple of hours spent in the company of a complicated raconteur an engaging experience.
"Tru" runs through Jan. 1 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., in West Palm Beach. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday-Sunday, and 7 p.m. some Sundays. Tickets cost $66 ($10 for students). To order, call 561-514-4042 or go to PalmBeachDramaworks.org.