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A Kansas City Bookstore Channels Anti-Christmas Sentiments Through Truman Capote

Bill Pryor
Philip blue owl Hooser as Truman Capote in 'Tru.'

Turns out Truman Capote didn’t like Christmas much. The "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" author wasn’t alone.

"We have these lives we want to have," said Prospero's bookstore owner Will Leathem, "and quite often Christmas puts an exclamation point on the reminder that maybe there's a little disjunct between what we want ourselves to be and where we are."

Capote confronts that reality in the 1989 play "Tru," by Jay Presson Allen, which Leathem is producing this month at Prospero's. The one-man show featuring Philip blue owl Hooser as Truman Capote is set on Christmas Eve, 1975.

The bookstore owner and actor had been friends for several years and both are Capote fans, Leathem told Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

"Phil is always acting, so I asked him if he was doing anything over December, and he wasn’t, so we decided to do (the play)," Leathem said.

Credit Facebook
Philip blue owl Hooser as Truman Capote.

Hooser told KCUR he thinks Leathem broached the subject because Hooser wouldn't stop doing his Capote impression, but he also had wanted to be part of a production of "Tru" since first seeing it.

"It's sort of holiday-themed but it's not saccharine," Hooser said. "It's an open-eyed look at Capote and how he found himself in hot water with his socialite friends after a book of his was published."

In the play, Capote, who operated in the highest spheres of 1970s New York culture, had just published the first chapter of his novel "Answered Prayers." When members of his social circle recognized themselves and didn't like what they saw, they ostracized Capote.

Yet, Hooser said, Capote understood that they all enjoyed talking about one another. One of the play's lines is about tucking in socialites: "And then I tell them a bedtime story, and they always loved hearing something horrendous about someone impeccable."

So, the author was alone in his apartment for the holidays, which is where "Tru" finds him. He talks on the phone and to the audience.

Credit Roger Higgins
Truman Capote in 1959.

Hooser said it's as if Capote has found a group of people in the audience who he thinks might be sympathetic, so he bends their ears.

"He's just full of questions, because he's interested in people," Hooser said. "You might not be the type of people who talk to yourselves out loud," Capote says. Or, "Have you ever thought about killing someone?" Or, "What thoughts would go through your head if you were drowning?"

Because the play portrays Capote at such an awful time in his life, Hooser said some people have the impulse to comfort him.

"I've even had an audience member who said to me, 'I just wanted to run up on stage and hug you,' and I was like, 'That’s so wonderful.' She wanted to comfort Truman," Hooser said.

Leathem, who frequently hosts musical acts, literary readings and other performances on the third floor of Prospero's, said he means for "Tru" to be the first in a series of literary-themed plays. Staging the play in a bookstore creates an intimacy often lacking in stage productions, he said, and the books add to the feeling of being in Capote's apartment.

"You are really on the set, as it were, and you're in his home and it feels very homey," Leathem said.

Leathem said the play speaks to people who have a tough time with Christmas.

"I think this play is cathartic on top of being enjoyable and insightful, but the catharsis of realizing you are not the only person out there who at this time of year is thinking about things."

“Tru” starring Philip blue owl Hooser, 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23, Thursday, Dec. 27, and Sunday, Dec. 30 at Prospero's Books, 1800 West 39th Street, Kansas City, MO 64111. Tickets $13-$25.

Listen to Gina Kaufmann's conversation with Will Leathem and Philip blue owl Hooser here.

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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