SANTA ANA — Even the most hardened of Scrooges would have to be softened by "A Christmas Memory," Truman Capote's wrenchingly personal account of his boyhood bond with his colorful Aunt Sook. As staged by the Alternative Repertory Theatre, it's a simple, moving, whimsical touchstone for the heart of the holidays.
Director Joel T. Cotter and his actors, Lee Clark and Barabara Sorenson, bring great warmth to the production, a staged reading of Capote's short story complete with scripts in hand. The places, the props, the activities are suggested by movement and mime. Yet Capote's writing is so vivid and evocative that scenes linger in the imaginative mind with all the detail of first-hand experience.
Cotter guides the reading sure-handedly through the many voices and places of Capote's tale, rendering all with clarity and grace. Clark and Sorenson, a veteran team from past productions of "A Christmas Memory" at ART, perform with radiant enthusiasm and palpable affection. Like two apple-cheeked children, they press their noses to the window of Capote's past and crow to us of the treasures within.
Clark also performs in the first act of the evening's entertainment, a choral reading in four voices of a variety of holiday-related poems and stories. Directed by ART artistic director Patricia L. Terry, act one, entitled "Holiday Tales," has a high cuteness quotient leavened by a smattering of less sentimental selections from the likes of George Bernard Shaw, A.A. Milne and E.V. Wright.
The four members of the chorus are not all as genuine as Clark, who with effective open-faced simplicity delivers what could be a maudlin story about visiting an elderly relative. Ted Escobar has a fine speaking voice, but Stefanie Williamson's squeakiness wears thin quickly.
The visual orchestration is busier than need be, often illustrating what already is in the text, and the choral performance is only average. The entire act is an inoffensive but insubstantial appetizer to the feast that follows. But that feast is well worth the wait. "A Christmas Memory" journeys into the heart of a very special friendship, and for those who enter there, Christmastime will be "fruitcake weather" ever after.
'A Christmas Memory'
A reading of the short story by Truman Capote, directed by Joel T. Cotter, with Lee Clark and Barbara Sorenson. On a bill with "Holiday Tales," directed by Patricia L. Terry, with Lee Clark, Ted Escobar, Jacqueline Fisher and Stefanie Williamson. Lighting design by David C. Palmer. Sound by Gary Christensen. Continues Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays and Dec. 24 at 5 p.m., at the Alternative Repertory Theatre, 1636 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, through Dec. 24. Running time: 90 minutes. All performances $15 ($10 with a donation of non-perishable food or an unwrapped new toy. Box office: (714) 836-7929.