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Theater review: 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'

Dennis King Published: April 5, 2013

NEW YORK – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is undoubtedly best known for the madcap 1961 Blake Edwards’ movie featuring fragile-ethereal Audrey Hepburn in the role of Manhattan party girl Holly Golightly. More bookish fans will know it equally as Truman Capote’s somber, lyrical 1958 novella of post-war ennui on New York’s bohemian-chic fringe.

Theater fans will likely know it as a work that’s been sadly stillborn in two previous attempts to bring it to life on stage – an unsuccessful dramatic version in London four years ago and a notoriously aborted 1966 musical featuring Mary Tyler Moore that closed after four preview performances.

Now, Holly, her no-name cat and her kinky entourage of New York party people have finally made it to the Broadway stage in a dolorous adaptation by British director Sean Mathias (who helmed that short-lived London production) and playwright Richard Greenberg (2003 Tony winner for “Take Me Out”) that renders Capote’s waifish heroine and his spare, elegant prose into a stagebound bore.

Assuming the thankless task of stepping into Hepburn’s elegant slippers is English actress Emilia Clarke (the Mother of Dragon’s in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), a pretty young girl who mercifully doesn’t try to channel Hepburn’s Holly but who nonetheless lacks the airy yet feral sophistication to pull off the tricky part (“She’s a phony … but she’s a real phony because she actually believes all this junk she believes in”). Instead, Clarke suggests a slumming debutante who’s gotten in way over her head.

As Holly’s adoring neighbor, the aspiring writer Fred, busy actor Cory Michael Smith gives us a far less world-weary and manly confidante than George Peppard’s screen version. This is more in keeping with Capote’s intent, which presents Fred as the author’s barely veiled and obviously gay alter ego.

Greenberg certainly cannot be accused of aping the often too zany film version of screenwriter George Axelrod (and the ill-advised racial stereotyping by the Mickey Rooney character). Rather, he is perhaps too faithful to the source material, lifting whole passages of Capote’s prose and layering it in as talky exposition atop a nourish, rain-drenched setting of post-war New York.

Holly’s chi-chi circle of friends comes across as cartoonishly quirky and largely uninteresting. These include her competitive mantrap friend Mag Wildwood (terribly miscast Kate Cullen Roberts), her disapproving opera diva neighbor (over-the-top Suzanne Bertish), her puppy-dog South American suitor (Tony Torn) and forgettable others.

Poor George Wendt (saddled with our indelible memories of “Cheers”) is nicely self-effacing and sympathetic as Holly’s old pal and – what else? – neighborhood bartender. It says something – but we’re not sure what – that delivering one of the most memorable performances of the play was a skittish cat named Vito Vincent (who alternates in the role with stage cats Montie and Moo).

During one opening-week show, Vito was supposed to sit in Holly’s lap but quickly squirmed down and bolted into the wings. Perhaps he was bored and wandered off in search of a huckleberry friend.

- Dennis King