Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"A Christmas Memory" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BFW

How does it get any better? How can any story take an audience, soaked through after a frigid hail-and-rain filled December day, from the wisecrack theater seats of Theater Rhinoceros directly to the countryside of southern Alabama in the 1930s, and do it so easily?

For more than twenty years, a reading of Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" was a one-man affair, with the late Robert Coffman sitting in his red chair center stage and reading one of the most satisfyingly sentimental short stories ever written. He didn't use voices or body language or very much inflection. All he did was read. Capote's language is truly incomparable in this story, and, through the power of performance and the written word, Coffman was able to transport every person, year after year, from the world of glitzy commercial Holiday Land, back to the pine forest, the Christmas trees, the fruit cakes and Mr. and Mrs. Ha Ha Jones.

But Robert Coffman died a few years ago and Theater Rhino hadn't resumed the tradition...until last night, when Word for Word, in conjunction with Theater Rhino, performed a staged reading of the story, using four actors. It was every bit as nostalgic, funny, emotional, heartwarming...which is to say the secret, obviously, resides in Capote's writing. The show is only 45 minutes long and it's the most perfect and warming antidote to yet another dismal day of disappearing 401K.

Alex Moggridge (far left in photo above, taken by this reviewer after the show), plays Buddy with the most perfect child's enthusiasm, while Patricia Silver (on the right) does the same for old Sook. We recently saw Moggridge as Ian the questioning shrink, in Connor McPherson's "Shining City," and Silver as Mrs. Mallon in Lorrie Moore's "Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People," both bravado performances. Even though this evening's show was a staged reading, meaning the four actors carried scripts in hand, there was never a sense of anyone reading instead of acting.

(Incidentally, the two people in the center of the photo are not Molly Noble and Chris Libby, who were both excellent ensemble actors in the performance. Next to Alex Moggridge is JoAnne Winter, Director, and holding the wine bottle is the woman from the audience who won the wine in a raffle!)

Wow. We wish we could see this performance again, but one night was it. Hopefully the Word for Word version of "A Christmas Memory" will become a new tradition at the Rhino each Christmas season, in memory of Robert Coffman, who would be very happy to sit back and watch this one.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A Christmas Memory" Four Stars with a BFW -- a big, fat Wow. Thanks -- and see you next year?

"A Christmas Memory"
Theater Rhinoceros
2926 16th Street, San Francisco

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