You can feel when a director is in sync with a script, and that’s the situation with Tom Prewitt’s staging of Truman Capote’s “Holiday Memories.” Prewitt handles Capote’s nostalgic first-person account with good taste and good sense: He buys into Capote’s florid style but treats Capote’s characters as earthy and real.
The quarters are tight in Arlington’s Theatre on the Run, but this five-actor show is a comfortable two hours of storytelling. The WSC Avant Bard production is anchored by former company artistic director Christopher Henley as Truman, giving one of his most relaxed and authoritative performances. (Prewitt is WSC Avant Bard’s current artistic director.) Looking natty in a three-piece suit, Henley lightly drawls Capote’s narration — the popular adaptation is by Russell Vandenbroucke — sharply delivering the writer’s vivid descriptions and wryly enjoying the literary handiwork.
“Holiday Memories” is a recollection of 7-year-old Truman’s adventures with his much older cousin, Miss Sook — one of those innocents in her 60s who is forever young at heart. The play can seem a little precious in its depiction of Truman and Sook as spiritual equals, and Prewitt can’t entirely mitigate that. Young Truman, called “Buddy” by Miss Sook, is played by Seamus Miller with a kid’s raw energy that wears awkwardly on the actor’s grown body, and it’s hard to square this Buddy with Henley’s reedy, reflective Capote — the man Buddy eventually becomes.
Charlotte Akin is a beaming and believable Miss Sook, though. She’s a plausible, enthusiastic partner for a little kid as, for instance, they scrounge for spare change to buy ingredients for Christmas fruitcakes. As Miss Sook and Buddy fumble through their nervous little adventures, you get a sense of what an odd couple they must have been — and what outsiders. Truman was bullied at school; old Miss Sook was weirdly child-like. Capote’s sensitive writing limns this with joy and no small amount of loneliness.
Liz Dutton and Devon Ross are capable as a variety of broadly drawn figures; Ross ranges from Buddy’s rival to a hulking shopkeeper, and Dutton even has to play a cheerful dog. There is a grown-up tone to the design, though, that helps to give Prewitt’s show its sophisticated appeal. Colin Dieck’s set features half-built walls that give an indoor-outdoor impression, and his lights often saturate the stage in just the right warm colors, while Jeffrey Dorfman’s sound design chimes gently. Though the incidents are often funny and Capote’s punch lines can be delectably dry, the show doesn’t insist on a jolly holiday mood. It feels fine being a little blue.
Holiday Memories by Truman Capote. Stage version by Russell Vandenbroucke. Directed by Tom Prewitt. Costumes, Danielle Preston. About two hours. Through Dec. 20 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington, Va. Tickets: $30-$35. Call 703-418-4808 or visit wscavantbard.org.