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THEATER / JAN HERMAN : A Fine-Tuned 'Memory' : Alternative Repertory's Annual Staging Is Wonderful, as Usual, but This Gem Now Seems a Bit Too Polished

December 17, 1993|JAN HERMAN

Unless you are Gore Vidal, for whom Truman Capote could do no right, there's a good chance you'll like the Alternative Repertory Theatre's fifth annual holiday presentation of "A Christmas Memory."

I've seen Capote's nostalgic reminiscence about a Southern-style Yuletide season presented twice before by this Santa Ana storefront troupe, and both times I was charmed by its evocation of the touching friendship between a young boy and his dotty old cousin.

This time, however, I have to admit I'm beginning to see Vidal's point.

Capote has a tendency to manufacture cotton-candy emotions that melt in your mind--"In Cold Blood" notwithstanding--whether he's writing about Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or his lace-curtain childhood in Louisiana.

Still, making the most of "A Christmas Memory," ART has again come up with a winning Yuletide show. Lee J. Clark (Buddy) and Barbara Sorenson (Buddy's cousin) put on immaculate performances, reprising their roles as lonely soul mates who find solace and pleasure in their busy preparations for the Christmas holiday.

Although the presentation is technically a reading, both players are completely "off book"--that is, they never have to refer to the scripts they carry. When they do glance at them, it seems strictly for theatrical effect--perhaps to remind us of the informality of the staging.

But, in fact, under Joel T. Cotter's careful direction, even their tiniest moves appear to have been choreographed down to the last detail. And while it is better to err on the side of fine tuning, the pair's performance now runs the risk of coming off as just a bit airless in its precision.

*

This is a quibble, though, made in comparison with previous years. The high caliber of their portrayals is otherwise evident from beginning to end. Theatergoers who have never seen Clark and Sorenson do "A Christmas Memory" are missing one of Orange County's most thoughtful and intimate Yuletide offerings.

As a delightful curtain-raiser to the evening's main event, four other members of the ART ensemble (Kathryn Byrd, Dick Harris, Sarah Lang and Louise Moore) present "Holiday Tales," an amusing selection of a dozen or so seasonal stories and poems.

The choices for this 30-minute prelude range from the unusual (Jerry Gordon's "Wear'n a Tomato-Colored Headband") to the familiar (O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi") to the required (Clement C. Moore's "A Visit From St. Nicholas").

The ensemble--fresh, bright and spirited--gives an engaging performance seamlessly woven into an unpretentious whole by director Patricia L. Terry's fluid, briskly paced staging.

All in all, what is best about the show is the warmth of feeling it exudes. Without props or scenery, ART has created a fine Christmas celebration.

Also, having reached its fifth anniversary, the show has managed to become a fine tradition. May it continue to flourish.

* "A Christmas Memory" and "Holiday Tales," Alternative Repertory Theatre, 1636 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday and Dec. 24, 5 p.m. Ends Dec. 24. $16 ($11 with a $5 donation of non-perishable food or new unwrapped toy). (714) 836-7929. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Lee J. Clark: Buddy

Barbara Sorenson: Buddy's cousin

An Alternative Repertory Theatre presentation. A staged reading of "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. Directed by Joel T. Cotter. Also a staged reading of "Holiday Tales" by various writers. Directed by Patricia L. Terry. With Kathryn Byrd, Dick Harris, Sarah Lang and Louise Moore. Producer: Kathleen A. Bryson. Lighting design: David C. Palmer. Sound design: Gary Christensen. Stage manager: Heather Lynn Nickles.

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