Tru — for Truman — is a one-person play that takes up Capote’s life after he published in Esquire magazine chapters of his novel Answered Prayers in which he exposed the seamy side of the lives of many of his wealthy, socialite friends. Fiction — but everyone of his crowd recognized themselves and their friends in the thinly disguised characters.
It’s the mid 1970’s and Capote is at the height of his fame as a writer — hence the rich friends — mired in alcohol and drugs and causing what were, for the time, sexual indiscretions of a gay life.
We find him in his handsome successful writer’s apartment in New York City near the United Nations building, appealingly evoked by the set. ACT I focuses on Capote’s relationships with others. It’s Christmas and he’s feeling abandoned by his lover who’s abroad. Calling everybody who’s anybody “Honey,” he mends bridges with his fancy friends, especially the wives. He’s big among the little people, too. A telegraph operator gushes, some nobody sends him a poinsettia which he tosses out. He ranges from imperious to babyish.
ACT II brings a more inward view. He’s off the bottle, planning on a physical fitness regime, and morose — the word “suicide” is used often. He speaks of his early life, his abandonment by his mother “but the family took pretty good care of me,” his childhood drive to write, publication of his first story when he was eight in which — like Answered Prayers — he made fun of people he knew and aroused their ire, and, moving forward, a well-known wild party he threw in the ‘60’s, and, later, the evidently inexplicable, shocking suicide of his mother. We finally pick up a dramatic conflict: his successful resistance to suicide in the face of his mother having succumbed to it.
Capote’s affected style wears thin quickly in ACT I. We know he was a writer of depth and power, but put it this way: if we didn’t know the man we were watching was a fine writer, we’d think he was a superficial, self-focused bore. ACT II disappoints in a different way: we hear him recount personal events, but not in a way that provides insight. His resistance to suicide, in contrast to his mother, is interesting and as a dramatic conflict could have enlivened the play, but it comes too late, and her death is too little explored.
Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman’s wonderful impersonation of Capote in the film, Capote, one can’t help thinking that if Hoffman played the role, the play would be more fun to watch. Darrell Hammond is a fine actor but he seems too large and rough hewn in his style and manner to catch the seductive childishness of Capote, his southern accented babyish voice, and his odd allure.
Two whole acts in which Capote speaks — but we don’t really know from Tru much about who this man was.
Tru played at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through June 26.