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BWW Review: HOLIDAY MEMORIES to Warm a Winter's Night

Holiday Memories

Based on short stories by Truman Capote, Staged version by Russell Vandenbroucke, Directed by Michael Hammond; Jon Savage, Scenic Designer; Molly Trainer, Costume Designer; Chris Brusberg, Lighting Designer; Edward Young, Sound Designer; Amelia Gossett, Properties Designer; Christine Lomaka, Production Stage Manager

CAST: Marc Carver (Truman), Michael John Ciszewski (Buddy), Jesse Hinson (Man), Adrianne Krstansky (Miss Sook), Elizabeth Anne Rimar (Woman), Queenie as Herself

Performances through December 23 at New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-023-8487 or

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, with all of its blaring music and colorful lights clamoring for attention, New Repertory Theatre is offering a quiet and simple drama as a balm for our overloaded synapses. Holiday Memories combines two short stories by Truman Capote that are based on his childhood in rural Alabama in the middle of the Depression. Through the relationship between eight-year-old Buddy and his older eccentric cousin Miss Sook, "The Thanksgiving Visitor" and "A Christmas Memory" demonstrate the value of friendship, the joy of giving, and a meaningful purpose for the annual fruitcake.    

Marc Carver as the adult Truman is our storyteller and guide for the evening, providing folksy narration intermingling with the dialogue of the other actors. Michael John Ciszewski, a Boston University sophomore, does an admirable job of conveying the body language and excitability of young Buddy, Sook's pet name for Truman as a boy. Adrianne Krstansky crafts the persona of the sixty-something Sook with a shuffling gait, a dreamy expression, and an unusual accent (that is sometimes difficult to understand). Jesse Hinson and Elizabeth Anne Rimar show their versatility as they are called upon to portray everyone else (a class bully, other cousins, a teacher, and a moonshiner, among others), and Queenie the dog is present in voice only.      

Director Michael Hammond and his cast dig deep to explore the humanity of each of the characters, including the bully, Odd Henderson, and the scolding maiden and bachelor cousins who head the household. Capote's exquisite language is lyrical in nature and the performers adapt to its rhythms to glide through the stories as if skating on a pond. While reciting his words and looking off into the distance, Carver, Ciszewski, and Krstansky help us to see the frozen landscape, the windfall of pecans, and the homemade kites flying high on Christmas morning. Some of the narrated scenes occur upstage behind a scrim, giving them an ethereal quality and adding to the play's nostalgia quotient.      

The overall take away from this production of Holiday Memories is a feeling of warmth. It comes from the dark wood Scenic Designer Jon Savage used to build the set, with its fold out beds and nooks and crannies. It comes from the muted lighting and directed spots aimed at intimate moments in Chris Brusberg's design. It comes from the woolen overcoats and long mufflers that Costume Designer Molly Trainer wraps around Buddy and Sook when they venture out to collect the ingredients for the fruitcakes and traipse into the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree. It comes from the chiming of a clock or a guitar quietly strumming to create a mood in Edward Young's sound design. Most importantly, the life lessons that the unassuming Miss Sook imparts to her beloved best friend, just by being herself and living by simple principles, provide a glow that radiates from the stage and settles over the audience like a warm blanket on a cold winter's night.

Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (Adrianne Krstansky, Michael John Ciszewski)

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