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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

Stage Review

New Rep’s ‘Holiday Memories’ brings Capote to life

WATERTOWN — It’s hard to resist Christmas stories that hark back to a more innocent time, before iPhones and PlayStations. Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” with its mewing celluloid duck and parsnip wine and singing of “Good King Wenceslas,” became a classic as soon as he made his recording of it, in 1952. So, once it took shape as a 1983 film, did “A Christmas Story,” Jean Shepherd’s tale of a 9-year-old boy desperate for Santa to bring him a Red Ryder BB gun. “Holiday Memories,” which playwright Russell Vandenbroucke fashioned out of two autobiographical Truman Capote stories, “A Christmas Memory” (1956) and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” (1967), is made of the same basic stuff: fruitcakes, and Christmas trees decorated with Hershey-bar tinfoil, and gifts of “home-brewed lemon and licorice and aspirin syrup.” This season’s offering from New Repertory Theatre, it brings Capote, and old-fashioned holidays, to life.

In “A Christmas Memory,” the Capote figure, Buddy, is 7 and living with relatives in rural Alabama during the Depression. His only real friends are Miss Sook, a distant cousin in her 60s who’s something of a child herself, and their rat terrier, Queenie. Every Christmas, Buddy and Miss Sook go through their rituals: scavenging for pecans and purchasing the other ingredients (which include a quart of illicit whiskey) for the 31 fruitcakes they’ll send out (one to the White House, of course); making the long trek to find the perfect Christmas tree; and exchanging kites as gifts because they have no money for presents. In “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Miss Sook invites the school bully, and Buddy’s particular tormentor, Odd Henderson, to Thanksgiving dinner, with unexpected results.

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