It's one thing to caricature celebrities in comic sketches, which has been Darrell Hammond's career through more than 100 "Saturday Night Live" impressions. It's another to bring a celebrity to life -- or in this case, back to life -- through a two-hour monodrama.
While Hammond manages to resurrect his subject, Truman Capote, in Bay Street's production of "Tru," his solo occupation of the wreckage that Capote had become never convinces us it's not just Darrell doing his thing.
We eavesdrop on Tru's phone conversation in his UN Plaza penthouse at Christmastime 1975. While he's hardly on his deathbed -- Capote died at 59 in 1984 -- his life is in shambles. His lover has abandoned him. His jet-set friends won't return his calls. He takes comfort in booze, weed and chocolates. Rising from his love seat on Gary Hygom's idiosyncratic bi-level set with the East River view, Tru speaks directly to us, confessing that he loves to "talk to myself about myself."
Tru's rich friends jilted him after Esquire published a tell-all excerpt from his never-to-be-completed "Answered Prayers." Gloria Vanderbilt isn't speaking to him. Neither is Babe, wife of CBS czar William Paley. We never learn why, exactly. Author Jay Presson Allen either thought it unnecessary or feared she might be punished by the same powers who exiled Capote.
We learn that Tru was precocious about his sexuality. We witness him reliving childhood horrors, complete with distant voices and surreal lighting (by Mike Billings).
Hammond captures the voice, cadence and gestures of the Capote we remember without broadening them for laughs -- except through Tru's needle-sharp wit. ("I'm a writer. Did they think I wasn't taking notes!?")
Still, even in his most antic scenes, as when Capote suffers withdrawal while abstaining from booze on Christmas Eve, Hammond's facility intrudes. We admire the mechanics of his artifice, but they get in the way of our feeling Capote's anguish. What if he'd chosen instead to become the grotesquely obese Tru, as Robert Morse did in the 1990 Broadway premiere? We'll never know.
Matt McGrath took over as director just before Bay Street's first preview, when Judith Ivey left for what management described as scheduling conflicts. Amy Wright's makeup design is far from radical, and Hammond's Tru looks only a bit worse for wear. In fact, dressed for a night out (costumes by Andrea Lauer), he looks devilishly dashing. And glib.
WHAT "Tru" by Jay Presson Allen
WHEN | WHERE Through June 26; 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, also 2 p.m. Wednesdays, 4 p.m. June 11 and 18, Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor
INFO $65, (limited $20 seats, day of show at box office); baystreet.org, 631-725-9500