‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ Served Lukewarm
By: Isa Goldberg
Even before I saw the show, "Breakfast at Tiffany’s," I was swept up in prurient rumors of fleeting nudity. Anyway, it all sounded quite dull, because who could top Audrey Hepburn in her quintessential role?
Fortunately or not, this Broadway production bears little resemblance to the Hollywood movie or to the novella, written by Truman Capote. Newly adapted by the masterful writer, Richard Greenberg, the play is dark and heavy. Incidentally, Holly Golightly is also worlds apart for Emilia Clarke, star of HBO’s "Game of Thrones," where she plays a ruthless leader and appears in some of the series’ goriest scenes.
As written, the play feels like watching a novella read on stage. Cory Michael Smith’s Fred is the writer who narrates the action, explains the scenes, and falls in love with Holly. Even though his sexuality is supposed to be ambivalent – references to his gayness shade his amour, but render the play’s existential quest as the central motif. As Holly says, warning him not to fall in love with a wild thing like her, "it’s better to look at the sky than to live there. Such an empty place; so vague."
Like the play’s structure, the set design is simply not realistic. As Holly and Fred talk to each other from their separate apartments, the theatrical space is constantly morphing and blending into the psychosocial world that Holly creates. Similarly, Fred continually talks to the audience, breaking through the reality of the action on stage.
While it’s an interesting approach, and certainly an unexpected one, the story stumbles at finding its grounding in time and place. There is ample talk, endless references to the war, and scrims depicting Manhattan’s famous landmarks by designer Derek McLane with projections (Wendall K. Harrington) of the city streets and nightclubs during WWII. The latter seem as perfunctory as footnotes. Similarly, Colleen Atwood’s costumes make interesting fashion statements for Ms. Clarke as Holly, but they, too, fall into a generalized sense that is not evocative of the era.
As directed by Sean Mathias, one feels that this could all be happening anywhere at any time. The story hangs in midair streaming with commentary from the narrator, a role which Smith manages sensitively. Similarly, Clarke portrays the spirited Holly Golightly with a determination to live unchained. She lives to travel, to be free from commitment and uncompromised by the merely quotidian. Rather than wild, Clarke brings a tragic sense of childish self-involvement to the role.
George Wendt ("Cheers") takes over as the kindly and infatuated bar tender, Joe Bell, a character that doesn’t appear in the movie. On the other hand, Murphy Guyer is genuinely moving as Holly’s husband, Doc, the role Buddy Ebsen created in the movie. Finally, Suzanne Bertish’s Madame Spanella is poignantly comic as Holly’s adversary, wandering in and out of the action.
It’s a well-rounded cast in a story that constantly feels interrupted. Perhaps that is Greenberg’s intent. After all he’s not sending us a valentine. Still, he could have chosen a more appropriate vehicle for love at a time of ruin than the celebrated "Breakfast at Tiffany’s," which will long be remembered as the most tender of love stories and the most delightful fashion statement of the stylish ‘60s.
"Breakfast at Tiffany’s" is at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th St.). For tickets call 212-239-6200, go to Telecharge.com or visit the box office.
Photos: Nathan Johnson