There is live theater available for this 2020 Christmas season. “Holiday Memories”, being offered by Berkshire Theatre Group weekends through December 20, is an outdoor presentation of two short Truman Capote stories, adapted for the stage by Russell Vandenbroucke.
They are offered in two segments separated by an intermission. Set in depression-era Alabama, one takes place at Thanksgiving, the other at Christmas. Each is gentle, sweet and charming.
Despite all these positive attributes the experience, if taken as a whole, is merely nice. You leave the open space called the Unicorn Courtyard happy for the opportunity to have shared a live performance of two literate and sentimental stories. However, there is a craving for a more celebratory event that is not satisfied. “Holiday Memories” is strangely lacking the feel-good joy that we want from our holiday entertainments.
Both pieces are memory plays, told us by The Narrator, named Truman, which clearly defines the stories as autobiographical. The first piece “The Thanksgiving Visitor” centers around the young 7-year old Capote nicknamed Buddy, and his relationship with his mentor Sook. She is Buddy’s much older cousin, who in the code word of the day is termed eccentric, rather than simple-minded. The code word for Buddy is sensitive or sissy, rather than gay.
Yes, Sook has a simple way of life and of thinking. But with her, simple is wise. She has the ability to see beauty in the most basic chores of daily living. More important, Sook has an innate sense of spirituality and sees the face of God in every aspect of life. She is a good person who believes happiness is being honest and doing good for others.
In “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Sook invites Buddy’s tormentor, 12-year old Odd Henderson, to Thanksgiving Dinner. At dinner Buddy finds a way to extract revenge on the bully, but finds his actions fail to satisfy his need for revenge. It also disturbs Sook, who explains to Buddy, “There is only one unpardonable sin - deliberate cruelty.” It is a lesson not only intended for Buddy, or one to be observed at the holiday season. It is this type of wisdom that defines goodness, and of course, Sook.
The second segment “A Christmas Memory” is about Buddy and Sook preparing for Christmas. It starts with Sook declaring “It’s fruitcake weather.” We follow them purchasing the ingredients, including the critical secret ingredient illegal liquor that must be purchased from a bootlegger. The segment includes cutting the Christmas tree, making gifts for family members and the creation of their annual gift for each other - a kite.
This results in the happiest moment in the play with a sensitive, young man and his older eccentric female cousin flying their kites and finding beauty in a simple act of friendship. This moment quickly turns sad as the narrator reveals this is the last memory they share. He goes off to a military school and she passes away a few years later, without them seeing each other again.
Clearly the material is warm and tender and ideal for the holiday season. However, the problem is the material is not perfect for the stage. The stories are lovely but passive and lacking in conflict or tension. Indeed, though each act runs 30-40 minutes, they are so alike in tone and mood, what takes about one hour and forty-five minutes, including intermission, seems much longer. Being outside, even on a mild winter day, shorter would have been better.
“Holiday Memories” is performed by a very talented cast. David Adkins is the narrator Truman, Tim Jones is Buddy and Corinna May is Sook. Daniel Garrity and Isadora Wolfe play incidental roles. It is directed by Eric Hill.
Though each actor is skilled and poised, the material does not permit them to develop individually memorable characters. No character has a major flaw and though nice people, they are kind of dull when offered on the stage.
“Holiday Memories” is warm and comforting. But it is only a moderately pleasing theater experience.
“Holiday Memories” continues Fridays through Sunday until December 20. For complete schedule and tickets call 413-997-4444 or go to berkshiretheatregroup.org.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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