A Philadelphia spin on a Capote classic comes to Manayunk

 The playwrights (left to right): Douglas Williams, Bruce Walsh and Chris Davis. (Courtesy of FringeArts)

The playwrights (left to right): Douglas Williams, Bruce Walsh and Chris Davis. (Courtesy of FringeArts)

Manayunk playwright Douglas Williams truly embraced the interactive nature of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Not only did he invite an audience into his own living room for a performance of “Holly’s Dead Soliders (A Breakfast Play), he also baked his first-ever quiche to feed ticket-buyers.

When NewsWorks arrived on Saturday to see the results, visitors may not have been sure what made Williams more proud: the fluffy spinach-and-ham quiche, or the performance of the original play he co-wrote with fellow Philadelphia playwrights Chris Davis and Bruce Walsh.

Walsh, who invited Fringe audiences into his home for the 2012 festival, wanted to repeat the experiment. “Holly’s Dead Soldiers (A Breakfast Play)” is a collaborative original piece based on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the classic story by Truman Capote. It premiered inside Walsh’s home in Northern Liberties, traveled to Williams’ Manayunk home for two performances over the weekend, and will return to Northern Liberties this upcoming weekend for three additional performances, added by popular demand.

Williams, a Connecticut native, first came to Philadelphia to study at Temple University and has lived in Manayunk for about a year. When it came to working on the play, he said it was interesting integrating three different writers’ visions for a single piece.

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The writing process

“The three of us have really different writing styles,” he said of working with Walsh and Davis. Davis explained that the writers weren’t sure at first how they would collaborate on the project, once they all discovered a secret desire to cook for their audiences.

Originally, the trio thought they might each try to adapt their own short version of the story, and then produce a three-in-one play but opted to split up one full-length script. They began by divvying Capote’s text up into three blocks, and rolling dice to figure out who would write each segment.

There were rules: the tale needed to be updated to take place in 2013 Philadelphia, and had to follow the general content and arc of Capote’s work without using any of the story’s original text or dialogue. Williams ended up with the opening portion of the show, and he says that’s why his part probably hews closest to the book.

He completed his section in one intensive week, and then passed his draft on to Davis. Davis integrated his own interpretation of Capote’s story with a “continuation” of the story Williams had told. Finally, Walsh received the two-thirds completed play and penned his own ending, veering the most from the original story as he followed his fellow playwrights’ lead as well as the famous author’s.

A unique performance

The resulting performance stars Kristen Bailey as the irresistibly enigmatic Holly Golightly and Andrew Carroll as the narrator, with the playwrights themselves in a variety of small ensemble roles (Williams appearing as Holly’s high-school “study partner,” complete with “air quotes”).

Saturday’s show saw about twenty audience members crowded onto the couches and chairs of Williams’ small living room, sipping complimentary beers while the action took place around them.

The performance utilized the whole apartment, including the roof outside the second-story bay window, the windows themselves, the living room and the kitchen. Dialogue emanated from the bedrooms, bathroom and stairwell.

Capote’s Holly Golightly is transformed into an escapee of the lands north of Rhawn, a girl who finally learned to say “you” instead of “yous,” watches the Eagles and the Giants at Brew Pub and found her imprisoned benefactor through a Craigslist ad. The narrator becomes an earnest, bearded young hipster in plaid, complete with suspenders, glasses and skinny black pants. When the script calls for it, the audience itself becomes members of Holly’s party.

“Sets are fake. This isn’t fake,” Davis said of staging the play in a real home. “I love trying to mess with those conventions,” he added of the usual rules for theatrical performances, which don’t call for actresses to share a beer with the audience after climbing in the window right over their shoulders.

“I love the intimacy,” Bailey said after the show, of the non-traditional setting and the unusual community experience of performing in a Manayunk home.

“Holly’s Dead Soldiers (A Breakfast Play),” created and presented by Bruce Walsh, Douglas Williams and Chris Davis, is being performed in the playwrights’ homes as part of the 17th annual Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Three additional performances have been added at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Bruce Walsh’s home in Northern Liberties. For tickets and more information, visit the FringeArts website.

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