Buttoned Up and Constipated

Truman Capote famously said of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that it “isn’t writing at all—it’s typing,” though the same accusation can now coincidentally be hurled at Richard Greenberg’s stage adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which—excepting one significant difference—is a beat-by-beat replication of the novella.  Of course, the iconic film has by this point eclipsed Capote’s story, which featured far more prostitution and a far less conventional romance, so a chance to see his version restored to the popular consciousness should be a cause for celebration.  Should be.

The word that keeps popping into my head is “pathetic”—this is a pathetic production, one where nothing about it need be wrong and yet nothing about it is right.  But instead of frustration with the writer, with the director, or with the actors, I just feel sorry for them as they flush this opportunity down the toilet.  The entire production is too lifeless to inspire any feelings beyond casual indifference.

We open on Cory Michael Smith who, as Fred, relates his experiences with Holly Golightly (Emilia Clarke), an undiagnosed manic depressive whose highs seduce every man in New York and whose lows leave her alone with only a few trustworthy friends—those friends being the first she will abandon once she bounces back to frenzied ecstasy.  Fred, I think, is from the South, though Mr. Smith’s stammering cadence sounds more like a parody of slam poetry: “In-a down-pour of October rain, I arrive at the neigh-bor-hood of my past…”  His stresses have no relationship whatsoever with the words he is speaking, which can be distracting for the first twenty minutes or so, until you realize the play isn’t worth your attention anyway.

Ms. Clarke, stepping into big shoes, will inevitably be unfavorably compared to Audrey Hepburn, which isn’t fair, since Hepburn’s Holly is not Capote’s—the latter is a more melancholy figure, one who is always in the company of others because she’s terrified of spending a single moment alone with herself.  Still, Ms. Clarke is too happy, too healthy looking to play Holly; she has none of her sadness.  We imagine the actress goes to bed at nine o’clock sharp each night with a large glass of milk and a sleep mask, whereas her character—a self-obsessed, compulsive liar—is staying out until sunrise, turning tricks to make the rent.

Furthermore, Mr. Greenberg, in his one act of artistic license, has taken all of Fred’s closeted or repressed homosexuality and made it painfully explicit.  In the movie all the sex was 86ed, and here the playwright’s overcorrection has lead to some awkward moments.  When Holly pretends to be scandalized that Fred slept with a co-worker in his office’s supply room, he grins, “I had a need; he supplied it.” This kind of witty banter (i.e. Dorothy Parker’s, “After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under the host”) may be fine for two girls gabbing on Sex and the City, but there is something patently false in Fred—surely more aware than we are of ‘forties attitudes about homosexuality—being tickled by such dangerous gossip.

The ironically named Holly Golightly, like the more recent and the more real Amy Winehouse, seems to have tapped into collective female feelings of worthlessness and helplessness in the face of men, a kind of gender reversed Jake Barnes.  I’m not sure I’ve ever understood Holly’s appeal—perhaps she’s not for me—but this production surely did nothing to shed any more light.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s runs through April 21st at the Cort Theatre.  138 W. 48th Street  New York, NY.  2 hours 20 minutes.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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