The other Truman Show: ‘Tru,’ the fluke in his domain

LOS ANGELES — Jamie Galen’s uncanny incarnation of Truman Capote in the first act of ​Tru, playwright Jay Presson Allen’s 1989 Broadway adaptation of Capote’s writings and ruminations, is a must-see tour de force. The one-man show is set in the glitterati’s penthouse overlooking the glittering lights of Manhattan and the UN Building wherein the In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s author muses out loud and answers phone calls on Christmas Eve, 1975. At this moment critics and beau monde “pals” feel aggrieved that “Tru,” as he’s nicknamed, has betrayed their trust by publishing a chapter of his unfinished tell-all tale Unanswered Prayers in Esquire Magazine that dares tell the “Tru-th” about the lifestyles of these rich and famous “friends.”

Throughout this 70-ish minute Truman show, as the scribe liberally imbibes vodka and swills pills, Capote holds forth with his usual acerbic wit on the bourgeoisie; literature; homosexuality; alcoholism; and his favorite subject: Himself. (Call it “the Truman doctrine.”) We learn about the New Orleans-born Truman’s rather tortured childhood as a more or less abandoned child, including his stint being raised in Monroeville, Ala., “population 1300,” by “three aunts and an unmarried uncle.” Tru’s unhappy childhood is the source of what Capote calls “this monstrous anxiety of mine.”

However, for some strange reason, Tru never mentions his boyhood friend, Monroeville neighbor Harper Lee, who went on to create 1960’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and fictionalized Truman as the six-year-old character “Dill Harris,” who revealingly introduces himself to Scout and Jem Finch by boasting that he knows how to read. Perhaps Capote never mentions his childhood chum in Tru because—unlike Truman—Harper committed the unpardonable sins of not only winning the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, but had her novel adapted for a movie that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and won three Academy Awards, including in a writing category.

Be that as it may, regarding the creative process, the advocate of the “nonfiction novel” muses: “Writing is very hard. You get depressed.” As he writes about tabu topics, Truman refers to himself as “The poet laureate of the lavatory walls.” Indeed, along with the brutal killers of In Cold Blood, the conjurer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s café society goodtime girl Holly Golightly and the real-life confidant of high society swells put the “tory” into the lavatory.

Capote apparently agrees with his literary forebear F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.”

Truman refers to himself as an “outsider” who was “given access” to “the superrich,” as an object of amusement for those who have. As a pet of the jet set, he was privileged to peep into their private lives aboard their private jets, yachts, bedrooms and beyond. As a chronicler of the bourgeoisie, Tru characterizes them with a pen that is more like an acid-dipped harpoon that the insightful scribe unerringly hurls at the jet setters with the skill of Melville’s Queequeg.

They enjoy having the artistic oddity around, in part out of their sheer boredom, as his wit enlivens their pampered lives. Capote’s psychological critique of the not-so-beautiful-people is devastating, and when Tru skewers the squires in Esquire he’s taken aback when they squeal about his revelations. Truman argues that the ladies and lads doth protest too much; he’s a writer, after all, what exactly did the Paleys, Vanderbilts, et al, expect him to do with his peeks into their personal lives? He was a literary Wile E. Capote, so to say.

While the bestselling, tell-all-ing author may be a keen critic of the not-so-smart set, he is no Marxist intellectual as such. Capote boasts about being “very good with money,” and during this one-act play we “overhear” him wheeling and dealing over the phone with agents, upping his speaking fees, haggling over advances and the like. More than almost any other writer, Capote carefully cultivated his public image with relentless appearances on TV talk shows hosted by Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson, David Frost, etc., and craved fame as well as fortune. When it came to the gentry, the gossipy Capote did not go gently. However, I suspect that although he lived on high in his posh penthouse perch after achieving bestseller status, he was not to the manor born. I suspect his class consciousness was tinged with envy. (Capote’s contemporary, that classy class traitor Gore Vidal, was a far superior and consistent critic of the ruling class.)

Truman could also turn his pen into a pen knife when perforating—uh, I mean, profiling—celebrities, such as in his waspish 1957 New Yorker magazine takedown of Marlon Brando while on location at Kyoto, shooting the motion picture Sayonara. Tru’s 1957 The Duke in His Domain has been called “the best profile ever written.” The catty Capote describes Brando, who was then at the height of his stardom and the youngest Best Actor winner in Oscar history, as “A deity, yes; but more than that, really, just a young man sitting on a pile of candy.”

The longed-for celebrityhood the waifish Capote carefully cultivated was enhanced by his odd persona. As Tru notes in Tru: “There’s nothing ordinary about me.” In addition to his diminutive stature, Truman also had an unusual voice that was distinctive, especially as he promenaded about on various TV programs and even appeared in movies, co-starring in Neil Simon’s star-studded 1976 whodunit spoof Murder by Death and as himself in a Central Park-set cameo in 1978’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Annie Hall. Truman was, arguably, a fluke of nature, in terms of not only his looks, but his prodigious literary talent (when he could make the supreme sacrifice and manage to tear himself away from partying and club-hopping, that is).

However, Capote contends in Tru that his appearance has been an asset, insisting he was “very pretty,” as well as extremely athletic. “I’m about as delicate as a pit bull,” he confides in the audience. Truman boasts that his looks helped him with his numerous sexual conquests and openly embraces his homosexuality, long before it was cool to be out and gay. Babe Paley, Lady Slim Keith and their male partners presumably didn’t have to worry about Truman coming on to them, which probably helped in lowering their guard—much to their chagrin later on, when Truman allegedly committed infidelity on the page, as confidant turned Woodward and Bernstein.

(Although Tru accuses one of his recent beaus of stealing “six spiral notebooks” from him, which the missed-deadline author rationalizes as the real reason why he’s late delivering the completed manuscript of Unanswered Prayers to his impatient publishing house, which has to date nothing to show for the advances lavished upon the wordsmith/huckster. Rough trade, indeed.)

I suspect that Capote never finished his yearned-for masterpiece in his abbreviated lifetime because fame and fortune seduced him away from his typewriter for such long stretches. Who’d want to do all that “very hard” work (although he pretends to be writing in one of his phone calls) that could summon up those inner demons of “depression,” when you can be out and about, cavorting on the arm of Jackie O. or another socialite (whom he hasn’t burnt in print yet, that is), or guzzling liquor and popping pills to take the edge off of your pain (plus years off of your life)?

Tru blares some mood-setting period disco music by Donna Summer and the usual suspects, although Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager didn’t open Studio 54—one of Truman’s haunts—until 1977. (The nightclub ambiance of the Three Clubs Stage Room enhances the play’s ambiance.) In any case, the siren call from Ava Gardner’s retinue rescues Truman from the dread of being all alone on Christmas Eve, his prayer for solace and surcease answered.

Most of the above is rendered with great aplomb and panache by Jamie Galen who, within the parameters of the solo show idiom, triumphantly brings Truman Capote back to life. Galen—who was cast as the lead in Neil Simon’s multiple Tony Award-winning Lost in Yonkers on Broadway opposite Kevin Spacey and Mercedes Reuhl in 1991—perfectly captures Capote’s mannerisms, speech patterns, rages and so on. I believe this not only because I often watched Truman on the tube during his heyday, but I actually met him in Manhattan at the same time period Tru is set in.

It’s not that Galen impersonates or does an impression of the mercurial author, as much his performance is, as said, an incarnation of Capote—or perhaps a reincarnation. The actort studied at HB Studio with Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof, and his spot-on rendition and channeling of Truman is stage acting at its finest. This Hollywood Fringe production richly deserves a longer, well-publicized run. The solo show is deftly directed by Blade Runner actress Joanna Cassidy.

Tru is for theatergoers interested in: Truman Capote; writing; LGBTQ and trans issues; how capitalism wreaks havoc upon artists; la crème de la crème and their crimes; substance abuse; that so-called “bitch goddess” fame; cancel culture; one-man shows; and above all, great acting, live, up close and personal. Truman Capote died August 25, 1984, in Los Angeles, at the Bel Air home of Joanne Carson, ex-wife of The Tonight Show’s famed host. His ashes were, for a time, laid to rest at Westwood Village Memorial Park, near UCLA. His inner demons, drug/alcohol abuse, the ravages of loneliness, etc., caught up with Truman much too young; he never lived to see 60.

It’s a pity. We could have used his biting wit during the Trump era. One can imagine Capote resplendent in his old age, profiling The Donald at his Mar-a-Loco lair for a New Yorker piece entitled A Puke in His Domain. We shall never see his likes again—but can get a delicious taste of his alternately venomous and amusing wordplay and outrageous, impish self as Jamie Galen resurrects Truman Capote onstage in Tru. Tru dat.

Don’t miss Tru, which is being presented Sat., June 11, 18 and 25, and Sun., June 19, all at 7:30 p.m. at Three Clubs Stage Room, 1123 N. Vine St., Hollywood. ​See here for tickets.

Tru is produced by Devix Szell, with voices provided by ​Lucie Arnaz and Sondra Currie.

The solo show is deftly directed by Blade Runner actress Joanna Cassidy.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.