THE BASICS: BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, the novella by Truman Capote adapted for the stage by Richard Greenberg, is presented by American Repertory Theater of WNY, directed by Matthew LaChiusa, starring Candice Kogut as “Holly Golightly” and Ryan Kaminski as “Fred” along with Heather Casseri, Derrik Reynolds, Dewel Perez, Robert Insana, Elizabeth Oddy, and Chris Wagner playing multiple supporting roles. It will run through February 16, Thursday through Saturday at 8, plus Sunday, February 10, at 2 at ART/WNY, 545 Elmwood Avenue (the “Theatreloft”) near Utica Street (983-4345). www.artofwny.org Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Director Matthew LaChiusa reminds us that Richard Greenberg’s adaptation is based on Capote’s novella and not upon the 1961 rom-com starring Audrey Hepburn (although we do get a rendition of “Moon River” sung on a fire escape). It is the story of two young, Southern-born people, each trying to create a new life for themselves in NYC. As the introverted writer dubbed “Fred” by his Upper East Side neighbor “Holly Golightly” is drawn into (quoting now from ART’s website) “her world of spontaneous parties and luxury, he finds himself fascinated with this captivating woman, her quirks, and her mysterious past. In this narrative background complete with a group of eccentric denizens of NYC, Breakfast at Tiffany’s mixes comedy with a poignant observation into what truly constitutes Love.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:
I must admit, I never saw the movie, so I had no problems comparing the two. On the other hand, I did meet Truman Capote once during a summer between college semesters when I drove a yellow cab in NYC. I was flagged down by a doorman and next thing I knew there he was! He looked at my hack license and said “Oh, I have a friend named Peter Hall. He directs Shakespeare. Do you know him?” I had to admit that Sir Peter Hall and I didn’t travel in the same circles. I wish I could report a scintillating discussion on literary topics, but I simply froze up and had the single thought of not getting into an accident with Truman Capote in my cab. So, back to the play.
This current show is a much more “balanced” production in terms of set, characterization, motivation, directing, and acting than we’ve seen recently at ART’s 545 home with their somewhat less-than-successful productions of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and OUR TOWN.
So, while knowing that this play lasts 2-1/2 hours might make you think that it will be “long,” the story, even with all of the bizarre characters who come and go into Holly’s life, holds together and holds your interest.
And, hey, there’s even a live cat, in the story just named “Cat,” who is adorable (and I’m not a “cat person”) and is more important to understanding the overall arc of the play than you’d think. “We just sort of took up by the river one day; we don’t belong to each other; he’s an independent, and so am I” is how Holly introduces him, but it’s not the end of the story at all.
Standouts include Ms. Kogut who thrives on her “leading lady” role where she is more her own woman, or at least Holly thinks she is, as opposed to dominated roles such as Curly’s wife in OF MICE AND MEN or May who gets slapped around by Eddie in FOOL FOR LOVE. And, she gets to wear a wide-variety of well-tailored outfits to boot. Of course, in a larger sense, we could ask if “Holly” truly has agency and is working toward a goal, or is she just running away from a hard-scrabble past?
And we could ask that same question of “Fred” the writer, although, despite some difficulty in holding down a pay-the-rent job, and despite being distracted from his lonely craft by Holly’s party-girl “American Geisha” (to use Truman Capote’s description) lifestyle, ultimately does get a story published. The role is well-played, and very consistently portrayed with a blend of amusement and tender care, by Ryan Kaminski.
The third acting highlight was Derrik Reynolds, who plays both the Noo Yawk neighborhood bahtender “Joe Bell” and in other scenes as the wheeling-dealing Hollywood Agent “OJ Berman.” Reynolds has a great voice that projects (a real, ongoing, and serious problem for some actors in the 545 space) and a mobile face that makes every minute he’s on stage fun.
Rounding out the cast in a variety of roles (only their principal role listed) is Robert Insana as “Doc Golightly,” with Heather Casseri as “Mags Wildwood,” Chris Wagner as “Rusty Trawler,” Dewel Perez as “José Ybarra-Jaegar,” and Elizabeth Oddy as “Madame Spanella.”
Two quibbles: First, there’s the ongoing problem of vocal projection for some actors in the 545 space, which is a very large, very wide stage. This is compounded when there is other noise in the house. In the past, an overhead heating unit has been a problem, but, despite the bitter cold outside, on the night we went, that noise was not noticeable. Good. However, during the big party scene, the party music drowned out several actors. An easy fix, I would think.
And, despite her co-star Ryan Kaminsky being not only a musician but a guitar and ukulele teacher, Ms. Kogut’s attempt to accompany herself on the ukulele was most distracting. Suggestion: have her strum a few chords to “set the stage” so to speak, and then sing a cappella (she has a lovely voice), or, better yet, have her hold the uke, but sing to a pre-recorded accompaniment which could be created by Mr. Kaminsky. Another easy fix, I would think.
To sum up, this is an entrancing story by one of America’s great writers, well-adapted for the stage and presented in a balanced manner, about some core American values – upward mobility and self-reliance – and some universal topics including letting go, holding on, friendship, and love.
Lead image: Ryan Kaminski as “Fred” and Candice Kogut as “Holly Golightly”, courtesy ART/WNY.
UP NEXT: The 1968 musical PARADE dealing with hot button topics still in the headlines today: Racism, Anti-Semitism, Lynching, and the KKK. It runs on the 545 stage from March 21st to April 13th, 2019.
Then, coming in May, JOLEY by Caitlin Saylor Stephens, described in the New Play Exchange as follows: “After a long separation two mountain lovers reunite one hot n’ heavy evening in a broke-ass bar, but when Oprah-obsessed Joley reveals her battle wounds from a particularly violent episode of domestic abuse, the two are challenged with the task of confronting their wrongs, unearthing their truths, finding forgiveness, and burying a body.”
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!