Holly doesn’t go lightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
Can you imagine “Game of Throne’s” Daenerys Targaryen singing “Moon River” as she orders her baby dragons, Rhaegal, Drogon and Viserion, to behave? We had a good chuckle at the thought as we made our way to a preview of Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at the Cort Theater on Broadway last summer.
Like Holly Golightly, the Dothraki leader was forced to sacrifice a lot of things to survive. But, while Emilia Clarke has Holly’s grace under pressure, she lacks Audrey Hepburn’s gamine allure and larger-than-life persona.
Instructively, her meditative musings are better-suited for Sally Bowles in Weimar Berlin—because the latest staging of Capote’s novella takes place in the gritty 1940s, not in Blake Edwards’ “safer” ’60s. But, you can’t play Holly and not draw unfair comparisons to the iconic Hollywood actress.
In 1943, narrator Fred (Cory Michael Smith) meets jobless society girl, Holly (Clarke), who earns a living by socializing with wealthy men who pay her for keeping them company—an American geisha. As they forge an unlikely bond, Fred’s fascination for the outspoken beauty grows as she reveals snippets of her checkered past—and even as it’s revealed that he indulges in gender-bending activities in the Big Apple’s dark nooks and crannies.
Blake Edwards’ 1961 film has its bleak moments, but they’re leavened by Hepburn’s doe-eyed optimism and stellar charisma. On the other hand, the Broadway play opts for a darker tone that is considerably compromised by the two otherwise attractive leads’ weak chemistry.
Luckily, the text doesn’t “spoon-feed” theatergoers, and presents them with narrative threads and open-ended scenarios they can draw conclusions from. But, even “thinking” viewers require occasional flashes of exuberance to help them rise above the exposition’s murky waters. You can’t just let your audience sink and drown!
The play starts out with a lot of promise as we see Fred and bartender Joe Bell (George Wendt) reminisce about the mysterious woman they both knew who spoke like she could get whatever she wanted. Then, the story goes back in time.
Unfortunately, director Sean Mathias’ storytelling is stodgy, gloomy and heavy-handed—and, while Clarke gets to show off her pleasant singing voice as she accompanies herself with a guitar, the song she renders is nowhere nearly as evocative as “Moon River”—which is never sung in the production!
The crowd gets a surprising jolt, however, when Fred and Holly take off their clothes and jump into a tub—a novel gimmick whose attention-grabbing appeal quickly dissipates.
Did the 26-year-old actress have doubts about portraying a role immortalized by Audrey Hepburn?
Clarke told the Huffington Post, “It’s funny—a lot of actors I’ve spoken to have said, ‘It’s very brave that you’re doing it,’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ This was never a choice—it’s a 100-percent yes! You don’t say ‘maybe’ to playing Holly Golightly. And I would hope that people wouldn’t see the play just to take a look at a young girl stepping into a bath!” We’re not so sure about that.