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HOLIDAY STAGE REVIEWS : Capote’s Reminders of Christmas Past

For the ninth consecutive year, the Mark Taper Forum Literary Cabaret’s staged reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” makes us remember what Dec. 25 used to mean when we were so much smaller and the world was so much bigger.

This year, however, another Capote memory has been added at the Itchey Foot in downtown Los Angeles. In “One Christmas,” we spend an earlier holiday with Buddy--this time on a fearful trip to New Orleans and a visit with the father he barely remembers. While his mother is making a career for herself in New York, Buddy’s father is wedding and dropping six rich widows, a career in itself. Buddy remembers “half a dozen, I’m sure, four dozen lady friends.”

It’s the year he finds out there’s no Santa Claus. It’s also the year his father begs for his love, only to be met with Buddy’s terrified silence. But Buddy is growing up, and a penny postcard bearing his love is a memory that follows his father to his death.

“One Christmas” tugs at the heart, as do the actors, and the fine, empathic adaptation by Michael Peretzian, whose direction of both pieces leaves a smile and a lump in the throat. Mary Carver is wonderful as the cousin Sook, and also as Buddy’s mother. Jay Louden is good as the sleek, confused father, and funny as Buddy’s “mean little runt” of a cousin Billy Bob. As the narrating Capote, Michael Tulin gives the piece a deep patina that glows with the period.

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In “A Christmas Memory,” Buddy (Louden alternating with Tulin) and his backward, 60-ish cousin (Carver) once more scurry through November making fruitcakes to send to their “special friends"--among them Eleanor Roosevelt. Both “Memories” revel in their lyricism, sentiment and rich humor, still fresh in this humbug decade.

A Dandy Little ‘Humbug’

If you’ve never read the Charles Dickens original, and your experience with “A Christmas Carol” is limited to modern reworkings of the story, you might find “Humbug” at Actors Alley in North Hollywood a dandy little holiday bonbon. It’s a pop-up greeting card treatment, definitely not for purists.

The brevity of the Jordan Charney-Arthur Hamilton book allows only the briefest nod to the Dickens story. The youngest tot wouldn’t be frightened by these specters or by the most genial Scrooge ever (Robert Caine).

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The score, by Caine, Hamilton and Barry Fasman, is tuneful and fast-stepping--like director Rob Bowers’ choreography--and does contain one impressive song. Expertly sung by Clayton Staggs’ charming Bob Cratchit and Victoria Cockrell as his wife, “Light to Carry” is a touching farewell to Tiny Tim. Young Joshua Walters as Tim comes closest to Dickens; he’s a heartbreaker.

Some of it grates harshly: an effeminate 18th-Century fop of a Christmas Past (overacted by Elias Stimac), Joe Barnaba’s commedia dell’arte Christmas Present, and Prudence Heyert’s Valley girl daughter. John Cardone, Jennifer Hochman and Karen Reed are good in multiple roles.


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