Morse Captures Essence of Capote in `Tru'

TRU Play based on the words and works of Truman Capote, written and directed by Jay Presson Allen. Starring Robert Morse. At the Booth Theatre. IT is the week before Christmas, 1975. Truman Capote's phone calls and musings are interrupted by the arrival of a huge poinsettia plant, which he finds irresistibly hilarious. He dispatches the gift to the oblivion of the freight elevator. Capote's other immediate problem is less easy to cope with. Esquire magazine has just published an excerpt from ``Answered Prayers,'' his never-to-be-finished roman `a clef about the rich and famous, among whom he has moved as both artist and bon vivant. A number of the rich and famous have been more than miffed, and ``Tru,'' as his old friends and new enemies call him, has become persona non grata with some of those offended.

The recent pet of the privileged muses on his new isolation and on the ways of the ultra wealthy. Commenting on his ``absent friends,'' he confides, ``This the first time in 15 years Swifty Lazar [his agent] hasn't invited me to one of his parties.'' The snub hurts, but Capote expresses his chagrin with humor. The ambivalence becomes a notable characteristic of Robert Morse's extraordinarily sensitive stage portrait of the mercurial writer whose celebrity became notoriety.

``I used to be famous because I wrote books,'' Capote reflects at one point. ``Now I'm famous because I'm famous.''

Yet the theater piece excerpted by Jay Presson Allen from Capote's words and works is no ``and then I wrote'' saga. Apart from the indiscreet new chronicle, Capote seldom refers to his published works. The intimacies vouchsafed during a couple of entertaining hours are more personal in nature. As Tru observes, ``I like to talk to myself about myself.'' He finds plenty to talk and gossip about. In addition to telephoning and confiding to the audience, he occasionally chats into a tape recorder.

ASIDE from his initial, stinging critique of the super rich, Tru delights himself (and his hearers) with impressionistic memories of an eventful and seldom tranquil life. From early years, he has coped with estrangement by creating an imaginary world that - beginning at the age of eight - has led both to trouble and to his successful literary career. Apart from one raffish anecdote, Mrs. Allen reflects Capote's casual acceptance of his homosexuality. The script shows more concern over the drug and alcohol addictions the author was attempting to fight only a few years before his death in 1984.

In his remarkable contribution to the art of solo performance, Mr. Morse, returning to Broadway after a 13-year absence, goes beyond the physical externals to capture the essence of his subject. Sweatered and bespectacled on his first appearance, Mr. Morse's Tru is a pudgy but nimble imp, capable of an impromptu tap dance; an amusing sophisticate whose laughter at himself is both self-deprecating and self-indulgent. Yet his quiet reading of passages from ``A Christmas Memory'' is a touching tribute to a never-to-be-forgotten friendship.

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