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Review - Breakfast At Tiffany's

Even if Richard Greenberg's stage adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast At Tiffany's doesn't completely seduce Broadway, I have a hunch that shortly after the amateur and regional rights eventually become available, this will be one of the most produced plays in the country. Why? Because sandwiched between the years where they envision themselves as Cinderella and those where they envision themselves as Blanche DuBois, I'd estimate a large chunk of America's artistically inclined female population loves envisioning themselves as Holly Golightly and they are going to want to do this play.

Of course, the Holly that has been etched into the country's pop culture consciousness is the one played by Audrey Hepburn in Blake Edwards' very loose film adaptation; a swinging sixties romantic comedy about a free-spirited young lady in her early 20s and the heterosexual writer she fascinates.

So perhaps the uninitiated might be surprised to enter the Cort Theatre and see designer Wendall K. Harrington's pre-show projections that firmly set the story as Capote originally wrote it; a dark, gritty memory of events that occurred during wartime 1940s involving a teenage Holly and a man whose homosexuality is only thinly veiled.

Greenberg's adaptation clings closely to Capote's novella, transcribing dialogue and using long stretches of text as narration directed to the audience from the unnamed scribe that his uncaged bird of a neighbor calls "Fred" after her brother. Cory Michael Smith is perfectly pleasant and understated in the role, sporting a bit of a drawl that will remind viewers that this tall lanky fellow is supposed to represent the source's author. Greenberg does expand on the novella to create moments that strengthen points about the writer, switching the focus of the story from a character study of Holly to more of an exploration of the emotions of a man who identifies as gay but is drawn to this one woman.

While actress Emilia Clarke, assigned to the iconic role, is certainly above the age of consent, she appears so young in some scenes that you might think you've mistakenly wandered into a production of Lolita, making the portrait of a runaway survivalist who puts on an amateur air of sophistication to attract much older men who support her with their generosity on "dates" a far more sobering tale than the cinema presents. (While Holly is not a prostitute in the more familiar sense of the word, when she asks a gentleman companion for cab fare or a tip for the ladies room attendant, a fellow in the know will hand over quite a bit more than what's needed and it's understood she can keep the change.) The difficult aspect of playing a character that reinvents herself as someone above her station is that an attempt to show that her new persona isn't a precise fit can look like bad acting. Clarke's performance works well if you can accept that Holly has neither the experience nor the know-how to completely be the sophisticate she envisions herself to be and that the men who financially support her really don't care, as long as they're getting what they want. In fact, the way the story unfolds, it seems to make more sense that way.

Fine support is offered by George Wendt as the barkeep with fatherly affection for Holly and frequent Greenberg role-originator James Yaegashi as an acerbic fashion photographer who feels guilty for his success while his fellow Americans of Japanese descent are kept in internment camps.

While Greenberg provides a capable vehicle for Capote's text, director Sean Mathias never injects the production with a personality all its own. The potential for charm, danger and pathos is glossed over in his perfunctory staging. What works about Breakfast At Tiffany's can be easily read from the page. This production never presents a need for the story to be placed on stage.

Photos by Nathan Johnson: Top: Cory Michael Smith and Emilia Clarke; Bottom: George Wendt.

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