Review: ‘American Playhouse Tru’

The celebrated 1989 Broadway return of Robert Morse in Jay Presson Allen's dynamic "Tru" has been taped for "American Playhouse" in what can be termed only as an event, and it's a joy. Morse's Tony-winning impersonation of the late Truman Capote never flags; TV gives the solo drama even more dimension.

The celebrated 1989 Broadway return of Robert Morse in Jay Presson Allen’s dynamic “Tru” has been taped for “American Playhouse” in what can be termed only as an event, and it’s a joy. Morse’s Tony-winning impersonation of the late Truman Capote never flags; TV gives the solo drama even more dimension.

It’s all there, with Morse’s Capote confiding in December, 1975, to the telephone, to his tape recorder, to the audience and to himself details of his various successes and disappointments, with Morse strikingly capturing the persona.

The character is bitchy, amusing, tough and lonely, with comments about his literary contributions at a minimum–a brief reading from “A Christmas Memory,” a thought on “In Cold Blood” and defensive comments about the fateful “Answered Prayers” plus a revelatory segment about “Mrs. Busybody,” written when he was 8.

They all contribute to the striking representation of the 51-year-old Capote alone at Christmastime.

The point is how intricately his writing has been involved in his life, and how his work has the power to make him self-destruct as well as to bring him a modicum of happiness.

The cameras pick up Morse’s striking measure of Capote’s facial expressions (known so well through the writer’s talkshow appearances) and Kevin Haney’s sure-handed makeup as well as an undiscernible bald wig suggest, but for a voice pitched slightly lower than Capote’s, the real McCoy.

Morse has the exaggerated gestures, the facial responses, the impish style and the pauses down pat. But more, he has found in Presson’s brilliant play (using Capote’s own thoughts) the wit and depressive binges that made up the man as he talks about his homosexual dalliances and of his alcoholism.

He tosses out poisonous references, puts across his adoration of the bon mot (when someone wonders where a melon comes from, he observes that the Mellons, of course, come from Pittsburgh,and he chortles over Mailer’s “Naked and the Dead” lingo), and indicates a desperate misery at the bottom of it all.

“Tru,” taped in November ’91, is a welcome record of the vehicle that toured the U.S. TV director Kirk Browning has made the most of Allen’s material and of Morse’s extraordinary contribution.

The play’s structure is summoned up in Capote’s comment, “Our end is consequent on our beginning,” an observation Presson devoutly observes in her study of a complex, brilliant man discovering that what he’s written today about his pals among the jetset draws the same pain as what he wrote when he was but a boy.

Set designer David Mitchell’s United Nations Plaza N.Y. apartment aptly serves to illustrate Capote’s isolation this Christmas, a decade before his death. And Capote’s own words have been keenly fashioned to portray the plight of a man who, though settling into decline, won’t go down without a verbal broadside or five.

American Playhouse Tru

(Mon. (13), 9-10:30 p.m., PBS)

Production

Taped at the Shubert Theater, Chi, by KCET, L.A. Exec producers, Sam Paul, Lindsay Law; producer, Michael Bronson; director (for TV), Kirk Browning; stage director-writer, Jay Presson Allen.

Crew

Set, David Mitchell.

Cast

Cast: Robert Morse.
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