One of the richest, most satisfying holiday offerings in town is a staged reading of Truman Capote's exquisitely evocative "A Christmas Memory."
Returning for the sixth season to the Mark Taper Forum's literary cabaret at the Itchey Foot Ristorante, the production, adapted by Madeline Puzo and directed by Michael Peretzian, remains fresh and untarnished.
Mary Carver and Michael Tulin reprise their roles as cousins--a child-like elderly woman and a 7-year-old boy named Buddy--who, within an insular world of disapproving relatives, have created a nucleus of warmth and undying friendship.
Tulin is both the boy and the grown-up Buddy looking back, poignantly remembering his friend with a love that the years never dissipated. He recalls secrets shared, small conspiracies and the eagerly anticipated traditions that belonged to just the two of them.
Christmas meant baking time--"it's fruitcake weather, Buddy,"--the ingredients bought with precious coins hoarded throughout the year. The cakes were gifts for strangers and acquaintances who extended the pair's world "beyond the kitchen with its view of the sky that stops."
When relatives "with tongues that scalded" call Buddy's cousin loony and make her cry, he cheers her with the thought of their impending Christmas tree hunt, another private rite.
Tulin, with his mobile face and warm, softly-accented voice, sensitively portrays both boy and man.
Carver, a small woman with the "delicate bones" that Capote describes, is positively luminous. Frail and worn, Carver gives the child-woman heroic dignity that not even the comical sight of her battered hat, old sweater and tennis shoes can diminish.
"When you grow up, will we still be friends?" she asks Buddy suddenly, anxiously. "Always," Tulin replies, with a child's conviction.
Carver's face relaxes, reflecting contentment at the answer, but she also shows us that she knows, better than the boy, that they are destined for separate roads.
On the small stage bathed in light, the actors sit on stools, reading from a script, but nothing is static here. Musician David Johnson's accompaniment perfectly frames the fragile moment in time, while Tulin and Carver make us feel, see and taste every word of Capote's vivid autobiographical reminiscence.
For adults and older children, here is a gift worth giving.
Performances continue at 801 W. Temple St. on Saturdays at 1 p.m., Sundays at 1 and 6 p.m. and on Dec. 21-22 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets: $6; (213) 972-7231.