During his parents’ divorce, 8-year-old Buddy has been placed in the care of his eccentric relatives. He is very close with his much older, simple-minded female cousin Sook. The two, are occupied with their annual Christmas project, making a plentiful supply of fruitcakes as gifts for their friends, family, and people they admire such as President Franklin Roosevelt and film actress Jean Harlow.
The story is narrated by the adult Buddy as a wistful memory piece, with Capote’s characteristically rich, insightful, and observational prose. Not much actually happens besides the fruitcake enterprise, though painful life lessons are learned and childhood traumas are depicted.
Over expanded, with new characters and invented incidents by book writer Duane Poole, this musical adaptation lasts over two hours with an intermission. The results, though good-natured, and relatively faithful to the story, are often dull.
The first act uses all of the material from the story with additions, while much of the second act is mostly original. The obtrusive framing device has Buddy as the narrator in 1955 looking back to the childhood events of 1933.
Instead of the plot being strictly advanced by dialogue and dramatization, the adult Buddy very often hangs around and comments to the audience. That the stage is quite small makes it distracting and drags the show. Also distracting are cast members who often sit off to the side of the playing area in view of the audience reacting to scenes they aren’t in. Plus, an actor playing multiple roles changes costumes or put on a beard, also in view of the audience, before he makes his reappearance in a different role.
The jaunty score by composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Carol Hall is pleasant and professional, with numerous Scott Joplin style tunes.
The animated and eager cast is made up of Alice Ripley as Sook, Silvano Spagnuolo as Young Buddy, Ashley Robinson as Adult Buddy, Virginia Anne Woodruff as the housekeeper Anna, Nancy Hess as Cousin Jennie, and Taylor Richardson as tomboy Nelle Harper. Samuel Cohen does very well at playing three roles including a fussy unmarried relative, a kindly mailman, and a mountain moonshiner. Walter O’Reilly, an actual schnauzer, makes a great impression as the family dog, Queenie.
The wonderful performances and warm chemistry between the cast members are evidence of Charlotte Moore’s fine, straightforward direction. Choreographer Barry McNabb’s work is simple and provides a nice visual quality during the happy dance sequences.
The scenic design of James Noone primarily consists of a striking, large tree painting, which is in view and dominates the stage throughout, as well as quaint period house details. David Toser’s marvelous costumes also evoke the look of the 1930’s. The shifting times are very well rendered by Brian Nason’s lighting design.
In 1966, there was a very acclaimed television movie of the story, written by Eleanor Perry, directed by Frank Perry, with Capote’s voice over narration, and starring Geraldine Page as Sook, who won an Emmy award for her performance. There was also a 1997 Hallmark television movie starring Patty Duke as Sook.
This musical theater version of A Christmas Memory has been performed around the United States in regional theaters, since 2010. This year, The Irish Repertory Theatre has selected it for its annual holiday production. Perhaps in a condensed version it would have provided the desired festive entertainment.
A Christmas Memory (through January 4th, 2015)
Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.ovationtix.com
Running time: two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission