Capote's 'Memories' make a good show

Truman Capote's Odd Henderson is a seedy redneck bully, a cross between a young Ab Snopes and Flick from Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story." In "Holiday Memories," Odd's air of childhood menace keeps the whole thing from floating right up off the stage, levitated by its own warmth.

"Holiday Memories," which opened Friday at Oregon Stage Works, is Russell Vandenbroucke's adaptation of two warmhearted Truman Capote stories about being a boy in Depression-era Alabama. "The Thanksgiving Visitor" is about what happens when Capote's beloved older cousin, Miss Sook Falk, invites Odd Henderson to Thanksgiving dinner. "A Christmas Memory" wraps simple Christmas preparations in a web of nostalgia and hidden meaning.

Director Bruce Hostetler has staged "Holiday Memories" in the round on a nearly bare stage. Truman (Sam King) is the adult Capote, looking back as a narrator. As a boy known as Buddy (Alexander Barnes), Truman lives with Sook (Diana Girvin), a maiden aunt in her 60s, and several other relatives in a big, old farmhouse.

Like most of us, Capote could wax sentimental about his childhood. And Buddy's life with Sook is idyllic except for one thing: He is tormented by Odd Henderson (Joe Caron), who has raised bullying to an art form. So he is beside himself when Sook invites Odd to the big Thanksgiving fete.

True to form, Odd commits what would seem to be an unforgiveable transgression. But Buddy's reaction, and Sook's contrasting one, point to what Capote hints was the awakening of Buddy's moral imagination. The only real sin is deliberate cruelty.

In "The Thanksgiving Visitor," the frisson of danger brought by Odd is missing, and we're left with warmth and light. Sook and Buddy make fruitcakes, glean pecans, cut a Christmas tree.

In both stories, Buddy shares the telling with Truman. Hostetler moves Truman around the stage as if his point of view is changing. Like Truman, Buddy can comment on the action and his feelings. But Girvin as Sook exists only within the story, and we see her from outside.

In her 60s, she has perhaps a bit less mental capacity than the precocious Buddy. Yet her choices drive the plots. Girvin plays her with a simple dignity that makes her a teacher of life lessons for Buddy. In "Visitor" she teaches him against long odds (no pun intended) that even Odd is a human being. In the second act she keys Buddy's discovery that everyday life holds untold beauty if we look at it right. Literary success would take Truman out of Alabama and make him into a New York literary lion, but it couldn't take Alabama out of Truman.

They say to avoid working with dogs and kids. But Alexander Barnes is tremendously engaging as Buddy &

a little Truman in the making &

even in conveying Buddy's pain and confusion as a bright youngster abandoned by his parents.

If Buddy's cruelty toward Odd provides conflict in the first act, his love for Sook takes over the second. In shelling pecans for a pie, confronting the bootlegger Haha Jones for whiskey for fruitcakes, in journeying into the forest for a tree, Sook initiates Buddy into the transcendent beauty everywhere around them.

Don't look for anything too complex here. Simplicity is the essence of the charm that makes "Holiday Memories" popular holiday fare. It is finally as sweet as pecan pie.

It runs Thursdays through Sundays, with special performances Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, at Oregon State Works, 191 A St., Ashland. For times and tickets, call 482-2334, or go to .

Reach reporter at 776-4478 or e-mail

Share This Story