SANTA ANA — Love seen through a prism of nostalgic reverie creates the beauty of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." It's a wonderfully sentimental story that not only basks in the essence of the season but reminds us of what an affecting writer Capote could be, before the caricature of his personality obscured his talents.
There's admiration in the Alternative Repertory Theatre's reading of "A Christmas Memory," an appreciation of the written and spoken word that spirits the imagination in all of us. It's this fondness that makes the experience at the tiny playhouse so touching.
ART, a symbol of pluck on the Orange County theater scene if ever there was one, has often been knocked for failing to vivify the usually difficult plays it takes on, but that can't be applied here.
Under Joel Cotter's deft direction, Barbara Sorenson and Lee Clark personify the simple humanity of Capote's story in pure ways.
Clark is Buddy (the 7-year-old Truman) and Sorenson is a cousin in her 60s. Black sheep in a distracted, strait-laced family, they find joy and comfort when together. Their love justifies each other, especially during Christmas as they go about a fruitcake ritual, making then mailing them to presidents, postmen, strangers--anybody who has struck their fancy during the year.
Capote's language is dear, delicate and without a trace of cynicism as he covers the mundane but illuminated events of the day. It's a tale for children as well as adults: youngsters will enjoy the images of flying kites, ogre-like moonshiners and small-frame Christmas glory; their parents will enjoy the intimacy of the emotions.
Before "A Christmas Memory," the troupe offers readings from six other holiday-oriented stories.
It's a welcome potpourri that veers from the arch sentimentality of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" to "The Indian Giver," Steve Martin's parody of it. We also hear from Dickens' ("Happy Happy Christmas"), Clement Clarke Moore (that old chestnut "Visit From St. Nick"), Jonathan Winters ("The Snowman") and Jerry Gordon (the finger-snapping beatnik ode, "A Tomato Colored Headband").
As with "A Christmas Memory," the actors (Amy Larson, Gary Christensen and Clark) enliven the experience for us. You can feel good about this program, on all levels.
Even the ticket price is appropriate--your choice of toy donations for children, non-perishable foods for the homeless or any spare cash you might have to help out this always struggling theater.
'A CHRISTMAS MEMORY'
An Alternative Repertory Theatre reading of the Truman Capote story and other holiday tales. Directed by Joel Cotter. With Barbara Sorenson, Lee Clark, Amy Larson and Gary Christensen. Lighting by David C. Palmer. Sound by Gary Christensen. Plays Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. through Dec. 24. at 1636 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana. (714) 836-7929.