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‘Tru’: the life, the art and the execution

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review

In order to approach and describe the experience of Jay Presson Allen’s 1989 play, “Tru” (playing at Diversionary Theatre through Dec. 21), it seems expedient to divide one’s comments into three parts: the life, the art, and the execution.

The man, the play and especially the production glitter with allure that is well supported by Matt Scott’s scenic design, Peter Herman’s costumes and Angelica Ynfante’s props. The setting — Truman Capote’s apartment at New York’s United Nations Plaza in 1975 — takes place at Christmas, with an undecorated tree dominating the stage, along with a cart filled with every alcoholic beverage imaginable. Despite the décor and the accouterments, the play, based on Capote’s life and writings, is hardly festive, which brings us to the man, perhaps best described as an extremely talented writer who became famous and was not prepared to deal with his own celebrity.

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Todd Bakesley as Truman Copote in “Tru” (Photo by Daren Scott)

Known to his friends as Tru, Capote (1924 – 1984), born in New Orleans, knew he was a writer even before he began grade school. Due to her unsettled life and divorce, his mother left him with a gaggle of female relatives. When she remarried and moved to New York City, Tru, 11, joined her and her new husband. He published his first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” when he was 23. When he was 24, he received the O. Henry Award for his short stories published in such periodicals as Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New Yorker.

Capote wrote the tender story, “A Christmas Memory,” based on his relationship with Sook, his mother’s aged, distant relative; “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which became a film; and his painstakingly researched nonfiction novel, “In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences,” which also became a film. Capote was an open homosexual, partnered for most of his life by Jack Dunphy, another writer, who in 1987 wrote “‘Dear Genius…’: A Memoir of My Life with Truman Capote.”

Jack is in Switzerland when “Tru” begins. The play is set at a time in Capote’s life when his long unfinished book titled “Answered Prayers” had been published in part in Esquire. According to Capote’s obituary, this event “was catastrophic to the grand social life he had cultivated” because it told “apparently true and mostly scandalous stories about his famous friends …”

During the course of “Tru,” Capote is observed in the aftermath of the catastrophe, drinking way too much — as is his wont — and trying to make amends with some of his former friends. People to whom the play makes reference are outlined in the program. In the second half of the play, we see Tru as he struggles to keep his promise not to take another drink. It ends with the self-described alcoholic, drug addict and genius’s jaunty departure to see his few remaining friends and take them gifts.

Screen shot 2014-12-05 at 1.02.09 PMTru is portrayed by San Diego actor and Diversionary Theatre debutante Todd Blakesley, perhaps best known for his administrative work with the San Diego International Fringe Festival, Actors Alliance Festival, and Twainfest, a free literary festival co-created with Write Out Loud. Also a playwright, Blakesley the actor is remembered as the father in Moxie Theatre’s “Eurydice” in 2010.

Under the direction of Derek Charles Livingston, Blakesley understatedly and effectively delivers a Capote that reflects the writer at this juncture, alone and lonely, which seems part and parcel of the life he created. How much is fiction, how much is self-pity, and how much is reality is for onlookers to decide. No matter, the production is a coup de theatre not to be missed, totally apropos the season and the community, and a real feather in Diversionary’s cap.

 Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. Her book “San Diego, Jewel of the California Coast” (Northland Publishing) is currently available in bookstores. She can be reached at charb81@gmail.com.

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