By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
One Thirty Productions changed the name of Truman Capote's 1956 short story A Christmas Memory to the more generic A Holiday Memory for its current matinees-only offering of the sentimental three-character dramedy at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Actor John Davies is this show's lovable old coot, narrating recollections of Capote's 1930s boyhood spent in a household with a simple-minded elderly cousin named Sook, played by Gene Raye Price with heaps of charm. The Capote character's young alter ego is called Buddy, played sharply by Lakewood fourth-grader Jaxson Huse.
Buddy and Sook are each other's best friends. Each Christmas, they make dozens of fruitcakes, using their small bank of nickels and dimes to purchase the dried fruits and spices, plus one bottle of moonshine whiskey, for the recipe.
The director here is B.J. Cleveland, who is currently starring in WaterTower Theatre's It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play as that show's evil old duffer, Mr. Potter, among others. (My, how our local actors do stretch themselves for steady work.) Cleveland has kept the One Thirty staging uncomplicated, with most of the action taking place at the little kitchen table where Buddy and Sook measure out the flour and sugar to make their cakes, which they send to such unlikely acquaintances as President Roosevelt and the couple whose car broke down one afternoon in front of their house.
Davies wanders to and fro throughout like the Ghost of Fruitcakes Past, uttering Capote's jellied phrases, such as how "dusk turns the window into a mirror." At the first performance, Davies was a little unsure of the words in some of the longer streams of dialogue, stumbling over a sentence or two. Only young Mr. Huse was word-perfect; he seemed like he knew not just his lines but everyone else's, too. But the overall effect of this little ensemble is so genuinely humble and agreeable, their lack of polish is easy to forgive.
Musician Johnny Sequenzia of the band Home by Hovercraft hovers on the sidelines of A Holiday Memory, playing soft tunes on harmonica, mandolin and guitar throughout the one-hour play. That's a nice touch and his presence never interferes with what the actors are doing.
This, too, is a story of how good it feels to be generous to others. Buddy and Sook can't buy expensive gifts, but they're just as happy with the things they make.
Like A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life, A Holiday Memory is a feel-good experience enhanced by the thoughtful work of gifted writers, performers, directors and designers.