The enduring gift of friendship will be the focus of a heartwarming theatrical adaptation of a Truman Capote short story that will usher in the holiday season at Mississippi College.
MC’s Theater Program will present “A Christmas Memory,” a performance that is part stage reading, part stage play, Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 10-12, in the Jean Pittman Williams Recital Hall in the Aven Fine Arts Building. The production will take Capote’s words from the page to the stage, verbatim.
Set in Depression-era Alabama and inspired by Capote’s own experiences, the play evokes memories of a simpler time when the holiday season revolved around sweetness and warmth rather than heightened stress and commercialism.
Capote was a noted American author, screenwriter, playwriter, and actor perhaps best known for his true crime novel “In Cold Blood” and his novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Dr. Phyllis Seawright, MC assistant professor of theater in the Department of Communication, said the strength of the show lies in its relatability.
“It reminds me so much of my own relatives and how, during the Depression, people took what they had and recycled and reused it,” said Seawright, who will direct the production along with Emily Grace Boutwell, a senior international studies major and theater minor from Brookhaven. “They knew how to make something out of nothing and how to love their families.
“Truman Capote is so good at creating these characters and this world. Most people won’t know this story, so it’s a joy to bring it to our audiences.”
Ettatina Miles, a graduate student in educational leadership at MC and a Jackson State University graduate, will play the role of Sook. She succinctly describes the play’s message: “Treasure the memories with your family, because they are priceless.”
“Ettatina performed in theater as an undergraduate at JSU,” Seawright said. “She’s amazing. She has brought the character of Sook to life; she and C.J. (Steiskal, 9, a local student who plays the role of Buddy) have great chemistry.”
“A Christmas Memory” explores the relationship between a young boy named Buddy and his adult cousin, Sook, as they gather ingredients to make their “world-famous” fruitcake – with one intended to be delivered to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s family in Washington, D.C.
Raised by three eccentric cousins rather than his divorcing parents, the young Buddy dreams of becoming a tap dancer in Hollywood movies. A grown Buddy narrates the story of this particular holiday, which would prove to be the last time he would spend Christmas in his childhood home.
“It’s a wonderful story,” Seawright said. “You get caught up in what’s going on, the action of Buddy and Sook making fruitcakes and mailing them off and making kites and flying them. These things really happened, but they become symbolic of savoring every moment and enjoying every day and celebrating God’s goodness.
“When they give the fruitcakes away – they don’t keep any for themselves – they are celebrating the gift of friendship. These are simple things, but if we’ve found out anything from the last couple of years and the pandemic, it’s that the love of family and friends is what helps us get through every day and helps us to celebrate life.”
Interestingly, Sook’s character is never mentioned by name in the play.
“The narrator calls her ‘my friend,’ which makes the character special,” Seawright said. “She is indeed his only friend that we meet in the story.”
The production includes eight cast members and eight crew members.
Tyler Welch, a senior biology medical sciences major from Madison, makes his MC stage debut as the adult Buddy, who narrates the show. Jake Parker, a sophomore computer science major and graphic design minor from Clinton, plays Haha Jones, the owner of the local bar. Breunnah Collins, a senior pre-occupational therapy major from Clinton, and Larkin Dorris, a junior elementary education major from Prairieville, Louisiana, play the older relatives with whom Buddy and Sook live. Brooke Ingram, a senior English writing major and member of Alpha Psi Omega from Gulfport, plays the mill owner’s wife. Laura Lane, a senior biology major, will make her debut on the MC stage, playing the butcher.
Crew members include Megan Bryant, a senior accounting major and member of Alpha Psi Omega; Emily Gambill, a freshman biology/pre-medical sciences major from Jackson; Maggie Thompson, a freshman psychology major from Huntsville, Alabama; Gracia Oden, a freshman English writing major from Madison; Dani Henderson, an art education major; Cate Stennett, an art education major; and Colwin Allan, a freshman business administration major from Dallas, Texas.
In addition to Buddy and Sook, Seawright said audiences will love the third leading character, a rat terrier named Queenie. Spoiler alert: Queenie will not be played by an actual dog.
To keep the play as authentic as possible, Seawright and cast members combed through flea markets and antique shops and searched through closets and attics to find props from the time period.
“We have enough vintage accessories to take the audience back to that time period,” she said. “We found kitchen tools and other useful things that will become a part of our permanent collection.”
Reflective of the era it portrays, the play also relies on some hand-made props. For example, a vintage wicker baby buggy was too expensive to procure, so the crew found a baby doll buggy instead.
“Back then, you made do with what you had,” Seawright said, “and we did, too. But the way it’s come together with the props we found and the props we made has been amazing.”
Seawright encountered the story years ago when she was teaching an English literature class at Hinds Community College, and it popped back into her mind last summer when she was deciding what play to produce for the holiday season. The Truman Capote Literary Trust, facilitated by Penguin Random House LLC, granted the rights to perform the play, with the understanding that none of the dialogue would be changed.
When Seawright and Boutwell read the play together, they both cried.
“It reminds you so much of your own family Christmases through the years,” Seawright said. “We know the audiences are going to be crying, too.”
She said the popularity of the production lies not in who authored it, but in its underlying message.
“This play is about family love, and it’s about the love of God and the grace He gives to all of us,” she said. “The main character, Sook, talks about Heaven at one point. Near the end of the play, she has an epiphany where she sees that life is a gift God gives to us, and the joy of family and of making things together.
“It’s a beautiful time in their lives, and it’s a reminder that we have to live every day and remember that God is good to us every day.”
“A Christmas Memory” is scheduled for four performances: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10; 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11; and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. Tickets cost $10 each for general admission, $7 each for senior adults or MC faculty, staff, and students, and $4 each for groups of 20 or more. Cash, check, debit or credit cards will be accepted.
To reserve tickets, call 601.925.3453 or email email@example.com.
The three main characters in “A Christmas Memory” will be portrayed by, from left, Tyler Welch (older Buddy), C.J. Steiskal (younger Buddy), and Ettatina Myles (Sook). (Photo courtesy of Emily Grace Boutwell)