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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Kendal Conrad (Holly Golightly), CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Kendal Conrad (Holly Golightly), "Breakfast At Tiffany's"
"Breakfast At Tiffany's," 7:30 p.m. through May 16, Civic Theatre of Allentown

Theater Review: Civic's 'Breakfast' champions Capote

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

The film classic, "Breakfast At Tiffany's," starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, the ingenue who knew too much, is so indelibly etched in most movie- and theater-goers minds' eyes that it's a daunting task for any theater group to mount a stage version that is not a facsimile of the movie.

Civic Theatre of Allentown's "Breakfast At Tiffany's" is not the movie. The production, which continues at 7:30 p.m. through May 16, is the Lehigh Valley debut of the stage version based on Truman Capote's 1958 novella. Director Blake Edwards' 1961 movie gleefully turned the Oscar-nominated George Axelrod screenplay into a Doris Day-Rock Hudson-style romantic comedy.

The stage adaptation by Richard Greenberg hews to Capote's darker intent, which under Civic Artistic Director William Sanders' shrewd direction, develops, deepens and resonates as a tragic-comedy of unsettling proportions.

For Capote buffs, Holly Golightly groupies and, yes, fans of the movie, Civic's "Breakfast At Tiffany's" is a must-see. At the risk of sounding the Emergency Pun Alarm, Civic's "Tiffany's" is way more than a breakfast. It's an all-you-can eat buffet of bon mots, catty characters and sly asides.

The play emphasizes the novella's role of Fred as narrator (Will Morris in Civic's production), who breaks the fourth wall frequently and talks directly to the audience a la a Shakespeare aside.

Costume Designer Nina Reilly gives Fred a Humphrey Bogart "Casablanca" look, signaling that the play, true to the novella, takes place circa 1943 (the movie updated the action to 1960). In his audience directs, Morris effectively affects that Capotesque confessional childlike voice edged with the rasp of seasoned liquor.

Fred is clearly taken with Holly. You will be, too, as embodied and voiced by Kendal Conrad. Every once in awhile, a new talent appears on Civic's stage and captivates. Conrad is one. She sidles up to the role, seduces anyone within earshot with her every word and yet evokes a bare-naked loneliness underneath the bravado.

"You can't give your heart to a wild thing," we're warned. In Civic's production, we think not of Hepburn, but of Conrad, who is the beating heart of the show.

The impressionistic, semi-realistic set design by Marilyn Loose and Will Morris performs multiple functions as Holly's apartment and Fred's apartment set against text from Capote's novella writ large on a back wall. Projections of silhouettes (designed by Casey Hansen Conan) give the sense of a crowded party for certain scenes. Helen Confer's sound design emphasizes 1940s' jazz.

The show's other six actors, Daniel Eli Becker, Mark Boyer, John Kuchar, Jerry Schmidt, Kelly Suarez and Goran Zdravkovic play multiple roles, from three to six. Each actor makes amazing, convincing and rapid-fire transitions. Becker also assays as puppeteer of Holly's pet cat.

Civic's production of "Breakfast At Tiffany's" champions the primary source material. "Never love a wild thing." Capote got it. Now you can, too.