At Le Petit, the drama begins before it begins. In the intimate and comfortable second theater (which serves as the main stage this year while the real main stage gets repairs and renovations), we take our seats under the huge projected cover of an Esquire magazine. An ominous Truman Capote glares at us from beneath a black fedora. He is cleaning his fingernails with what looks like the sort of dagger a Shakespearean villain would use to assassinate a king. "Capote Strikes Again!" the headline shouts. "Answered Prayers: The Most Talked-About Book of the Year."
The creepiness of fame! A good place to begin. Who was it that said there are no second acts in America? Two thoughts sprang to my mind while looking at the Esquire cover. One was Tennessee Williams in his last years, referring to himself as "a sly old crocodile." And the other was an early publicity photo of Capote, when he was in his early 20s, sitting on a wrought-iron bench surrounded by giant elephant-ear plants and looking like a revoltingly perfect image of the delicate, moody esthete.
Anyway, Jay Presson Allen's script for Tru focuses on the elder Capote, alone, in his sumptuous apartment high up in Manhattan, overlooking the United Nations building. It is Christmas Eve -- not an easy time to be alone. Whose back, one wonders, did he plunge that baroque stiletto into? In fact, of course, it was his rich society friends that he had minted into lucrative literary gossip -- not the most heartwarming season's greetings from a man who was by all accounts a compulsive name-dropper. And so, that simple word "friend" becomes an epistemological enigma in the same class as "narcissism." Does Capote like these rich folks? Or does he envy and resent them? Both, maybe. But one thing is for sure: He doesn't like being alone on Christmas Eve.
There is, of course, a somewhat dreary and depressing undercurrent to the endgame of celebrity. Two things save the show from gloom. One is the remarkable eloquent eccentric who is confiding in us (by way of a deft and witty script). And the other is Bob Edes, who brings this eloquent eccentric to life.
Edes is one of our city's most versatile character actors. He's also one of our most accomplished -- if the nine Big Easy Entertainment, Storer Boone and Marquee awards presented to him (according to the playbill) are any indication. I've seen Edes play such different types as a surly record-label executive and a dainty French chamber maid. He can be believable and entertaining apparently in all genders, ages and creeds. As Truman Capote, he gives us charm, bitchiness and hints of tortured inner depths.
One of the curious things about the show is that we, the audience, are never actually acknowledged. Often in this sort of one-man presentation, a moment arrives in which the character reacts to our presence and gives us both an implied identity and reason for being there. In this case, although Capote takes us into his confidence, he never explains to us who we are. Perhaps we are the projection of his narcissism. In the stark disaster of his loneliness, we are the imaginary watchers who justify his being.
Another curious thing about the show is that it is one of the few times I can remember where the directors outnumber the performers. Usually, we associate the names Sonny Borey and Derek Franklin with splashy musicals and casts of not quite thousands. Here Borey and Franklin have taken on the polar opposite of intimate theater and done themselves credit. Also, Bill Walker's set is right on the money. Maybe Capote has lived everywhere and known everyone, as he brags, but the only companions he can count on for the Yuletide are his collection of paper weights -- and they are not great conversationalists. As for his living room, it may command a view of the glittering Manhattan night, but the wall-size picture window also vividly shows us the loneliness at the top.