Breakfast at Tiffany's
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Theater review by Adam Feldman. Cort Theatre (Broadway). By Richard Greenberg. Dir. Sean Mathias. With Emilia Clarke, Cory Michael Smith. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.
After a long gestation and a difficult labor, including a last-minute funding scare, Breakfast at Tiffany’s arrives on Broadway meager and stillborn. Here is a story that—in both Truman Capote’s 1958 novella and Blake Edwards’s 1961 film—relies on the restive charm of its central figure: Holly Golightly, a beauteous young courtesan in 1940s New York, who conceals her hillbilly roots beneath a blithe, insouciant manner and a cultivated voice flecked with faux French. “She isn’t a phony because she’s a real phony,” as someone explains to the writer who lives next door to her. “She believes all this crap she believes.” In the Broadway version, she never seems to believe it for a moment; Breakfast at Tiffany’s is phony through and through.
Attempting to capture Capote’s air, Richard Greenberg’s script overflows with fancy verbiage but struggles in vain to turn it into drama. Blink and you’ll miss important plot points; close your eyes for longer, as you’ll be tempted to, and you may get lost in the stagnant fog of storytelling. The talented Cory Michael Smith brings a mildly anxious edge to his thankless duties as narrator and Capote stand-in, but the coy passivity of the role defeats him. And the British director, Sean Mathias, surrounds him with supporting performances pitched at so blaring a volume of ugly-American vulgarity that they undercut any literary sensitivity to which the play might aspire.
In its combination of crassness and dullness, Breakfast at Tiffany’s recalls another 1960s-film stage adaptation, The Graduate; like that show, it features a brief nude scene for its leading lady that has been the subject of some advance press. (Perhaps they should just call the play Sideboob in Bathtub.) But although she’s a beautiful young woman, Emilia Clarke seems washed-out onstage well before her gratuitous cleansing. Dressed in gorgeous costumes by Colleen Atwood, with an accent that tilts oddly toward the far side of the Atlantic, Clarke comes off as a girl whose mum has dressed her up as Holly for Halloween. She seems neither sophisticated nor wild; she doesn’t seem like anything at all, poor thing. To the extent that her Holly inspires sympathy, it is for a pretty actor with little stage experience, modestly well-known from HBO’s Game of Thrones, thrust into a part she is not equipped to carry. She goes out there a starlet and comes back a youngster.—Adam Feldman
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam