A Christmas Memory for The Woodlands

Just before Christmas, in about 1963, a box from Neiman Marcus arrived at my family home in New York’s Hudson Valley. My friend Tom, a dormitory mate at the University of Texas, had remembered me with a beautiful, boxed edition of Truman Capote’s sweet, childhood memoir, “A Christmas Memory.” Now that book is about to come to life for Woodlands residents in two performances arranged by Doug Kilgore and his Woodlands Science and Art Center. (By popular demand there will be two performances at Montgomery College Theater –Building D- on Monday evening, December 11th at 7 PM and 8:30 PM. Tickets at the door, or phone 281-363-7919 for information.) This original Alley Theatre one-act production for two players is now in its 17th season. Distinguished Alley veteran, Beth Sanford, directs her original adaptation of Capote’s story, which co-stars Charles Sanders as young Buddy, and Bettye Fitzpatrick as his elderly cousin, “Aunt Sook.” Both actors have long association with the Alley.

At curtain time, a simple set depicts a rural home in the Depression era. The delicate music of a harp accompanies Capote’s memorable opening narrative: “Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning… A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. Her face is remarkable – not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh, my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!” The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together – well, as long as I can remember…We are each other’s best friend.”

And so we are off on a gentle and charming journey through the simple joys of life during the hard times of the 30’s. For Sook and Buddy, it all begins with planning preparation of the annual holiday fruitcakes they will give to friends, neighbors and the Roosevelts. As they gathered the ingredients and began the baking, I was sure I could smell the holiday aromas of my own mother’s kitchen. Fitzpatrick brings a soft, wise radiance, and an abundant optimism to her character. As for Mr. Sanders, when he looks off beyond the audience to visualize his memories of picking up the fruitcake pecans “…until my back ached,” he transports us right along with him. Sook lives simply. She reads the comics and the Bible, and takes long walks in the rain. She has never even joined Buddy for the Saturday movie. She tells him, “I’d rather hear you tell the story, Buddy. That way I can imagine it more!” That line seemed to me to capture the flavor of the piece. Here is an opportunity for us to imagine life in a very different time. There may be more holiday joy in these simple lives than we “moderns” can ever hope to find in the shopping and gift-giving frenzy of our boom times.

Mr. Sanders does a nice job of sometimes slipping briefly into other characters such as the amusing, whiskey-making Indian, HA HA. Don’t miss the mutual stupor when Sook and Buddy finish up the whiskey not needed for the cakes. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick provides clever sound effects for everything from the family dog to wild turkeys. There are moments of sadness, as when Sook tears up and tells Buddy, “I’m old and funny!” In an intimate reply, he cheers her with “You’re not funny! You’re fun!” With that they’re off on another joyous romp in search of Christmas tree and holly.

Following the dress rehearsal I attended, I had the pleasure of meeting the cast. I inquired as to how they approach a play they have performed for so many years. Sanders suggested that as they have grown older, they find new meaning and nuances with each production. Said Fitzpatrick: “After being away from the play for 10 ½ months each year, it’s like coming home to an old friend.”

(The Courier    12.11.00)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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