There’s a delicate line between imitation and making a character your own when playing a famous person, especially someone like Truman Capote. People of a certain age know his vocal and physical mannerisms because of his many appearances on talk shows in the 1960s and ’70s.
Jaston Williams does the latter in his third go-round as the writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, in Jay Presson Allen’s one-man play Tru, now at Theatre Three.
Williams, best known for the “Greater Tuna” plays, has portrayed Capote twice before at Austin’s Zach Scott Theatre. That he brings something new is saying something considering the unforgettable portrayals of Capote we’ve seen from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (who won an Oscar for Capote) and Toby Jones (in Infamous).
At Theatre Three, under the direction of Marty Van Kleeck (based on the direction of Larry Randolph, who directed Williams in Austin and who died last year after having relocated to Dallas), Williams evokes Capote through physical movement and a higher-pitched, soft voice.
What’s fascinating is that if you’re familiar with Williams’ work in the “Tuna” plays, you’ll also see glimpses of characters like Charlene Bumiller — but that’s because Williams is the vessel through which two such characters, one real and one fictional, manifest.
Wit, sarcasm and a delicious way with a one-liner — these are all tools Williams has honed in three decades with the “Tuna” plays, and they serve him well here.
The play is set at Christmas Eve in the ’70s, and Allen uses lines that come from the words of and interviews with Capote. Names drop like missiles from a drone, which leads to juicy gossip about such friends as Ava Gardner.
He chronicles the scandal that came when friends who didn’t realize they’d be written about were, shedding light on the idea that writers sometimes use other people’s stories for their own gain — and could that be OK?
Almost as much as Capote was known for his writing and his interviews, he was known for his love of booze. As the play goes on, and the character keeps drinking, Williams plays into this drunken descent brilliantly.
Jac Alder’s detailed set inside Capote’s home, coupled with Bruce R. Coleman’s costumes (based on costumes by Susan Branch) add to the experience.
Spending two hours with a character you’ve admired and might even have on your wish list as a dinner guest in the afterlife — and an actor who brings it all together so wonderfully — is the icing on the chocolate truffle.