My fellow critics seem to be focusing on the cat who stars in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a new adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel of the same title. The novella was itself the basis for Blake Edwards’ 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn as its slinky heroine, Holly Golightly, a woman of mystery who whisks in and out of the life of a young writer, changing him forever. At the performance I attended, the cat wriggled from Holly’s arms into the wings just as she was introducing him to the young writer, whom she dubs “Fred” after her soldier brother. It’s an easy critical out to latch onto the cat’s quick exit without delving somewhat deeper into the production at hand; my attempt to do so follows.
The problem with the stage play, which has been adapted by stalwart playwright Richard Greenberg (and adheres quite closely to Capote’s original novella), is the problem with Breakfast at Tiffany’s in general — despite the appeal of its heroine and a healthy dose of wit, there’s ultimately very little at stake for any of the story’s characters. Young Fred, who is just beginning as a writer in New York, living in relative squalor, is taken with Holly, but his feelings don’t run much deeper than a passing fascination. She keeps coming back into his life, and the two have a few spats, but neither character really wants all that much — or does all that much, for that matter. Instead, things happen to them; in the end, as Holly’s socialite status begins to crumble, it’s because she’s a victim of circumstance.
Try though he might to make some small fixes here and there, adding a job at a magazine for Fred, which he eventually loses without much consequence, Greenberg isn’t able to spice things up much. He’s wise to give some narrative passages to Fred, who, as amiably portrayed by Cory Michael Smith, guides us through the evening’s events, but these sections occasionally stretch on too long.
To my mind, however, Breakfast at Tiffany’s just isn’t built for the stage. The novella is quiet and occasionally affecting, but the film version works mostly because of the magnetism of Hepburn in the leading role. Whatever the fixation with the piece, however, the opportunity to stage this story seems to me a prime chance to take some liberties. Fans of the film will already be disappointed that “Moon River” is gone or that Capote’s original ending to the novella is used instead of the film’s more optimistic one. Why not go just a step further in the interest of structure and shape a more satisfying production?
Even saddled with a mostly inert script, the cast here mostly succeed in adding charm. Smith, who was so excellent in Mike Bartlett’s play Cock and Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, is quite good here as Fred and handles his long passages of narration deftly — as written here, similarities can be found between Fred and the character of Tom in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.
If Menagerie‘s Tom is the main reference point for Fred, however, it’s Cabaret‘s Sally Bowles who is evoked by Emilia Clarke’s Holly Golightly, though it’s clear that Clarke possesses only a fraction of Liza Minnelli’s star power. Clarke can quip like a pro and looks fantastic in Colleen Atwood’s costumes. Admittedly hers isn’t one of the most impressive Broadway debuts of recent seasons, but she does carry her own onstage and mostly keeps an audience engaged.
The supporting cast are mostly so-so. George Wendt of TV’s Cheers makes a very brief appearance here as the world-weary bartender Joe Bell but doesn’t make much of an impression. Most of the others fail to register; the big party scene that’s one of the centerpieces of both the novella and the film mostly falls flat here. It seems that this production has been cast mostly with character actors intended to make up in volume what they lack in subtlety. Fortunately, the earnestness of the production’s central pair does, for the most part, counterbalance its overall uneasiness. I wasn’t quite yearning to scamper away like Holly’s cat, but I was getting a bit antsy by the end of the evening. With a few narrative tweaks, Greenberg could have given a jolt of new life to this stage Tiffany‘s. Unfortunately, instead we’ve got a pretty aquamarine gift box — with a pretty bow, yes, but short on contents.