Jetsetter, party host extraordinaire, entertaining gossip and frequent talk show guest — writer Truman Capote took on many roles during his life.
His literary accomplishments were often overshadowed by his celebrity persona, though he wrote some of the 20th century’s most beloved stories, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and was credited with developing the nonfiction novel genre with “In Cold Blood.” But no matter how the public or critics saw him, Capote considered himself to be an artist above all else.
In “Tru,” the play by Jay Presson Allen, Capote questions how his “super-rich” friends could not have known he was working on “Answered Prayers,” a thinly veiled account of their secrets and indiscretions. Many of these friends, including the three he was closest to, severed their ties to Capote after an excerpt of the book was published in Esquire magazine. The play explores the loneliness, boozing and self-medicating he went through as a result.
Staged by Coyote StageWorks at the Annenberg Theater, “Tru” stars Chuck Yates as the title (and only) character. Yates, the theater company’s co-founder and artistic director, delivers a fine performance as the legendary author. He succeeds in capturing Capote’s mannerisms and the full range of emotions the role requires — from imperious wit to childhood abandonment to bursts of anger and struggles with alcoholism.
Yates embodies Capote, often as remarkably as Toby Jones and Phillip Seymour Hoffman did in their critically acclaimed performances in two recent films about the writer. He nails his high-pitched voice, interspersed with an incessant, soft giggle, and the barely-touching-the-ground bounce of a man who was 5’3”. Yates actually appears to be at least 6 feet tall.
Another highlight of the play is the stories Capote shares about his childhood and the people he knew since moving to Manhattan. There are humorous anecdotes about the 1 percent, the very sort of thing that put him on the outs, and the ridicule and sadness he experienced as an obviously gay boy growing up in the South. There’s a particularly touching and insightful scene where he recalls making a deal with a witch to change him.
What becomes clear about Capote in “Tru” is that he never overcame his outsider status, in spite of his success and resilience. It shows how the lack of acceptance he craved was both a blessing and a curse. Yates and director Larry Raben present a smart, funny and provocative look at how that “other” status — which fueled Capote’s writing and pursuit of celebrity, and endeared him to socialites and fans — reemerged in December 1975 to haunt him.
IF YOU GO
What: “Tru,” a play from the words and works of Truman Capote, by Jay Presson Allen
When: 2 p.m. April 24-28, 7 :30 p.m. April 24, 26 and 27.
Where: Annenberg Theater, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs
Info: (760) 325-4490, www.annenbergtheater.org