In Play Reviews

Two small gems grace the stage of Portland Center Stage’s Ellyn Bye Studio now through December 30. One is a vintage Christmas classic by Truman Capote; the second is a new production that is to Portland and of Portland.

I would walk miles to see and hear Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Once I hear the words “It’s a coming of winter morning…”, I’m hooked. Directed by Brandon Woolley and performed by Leif Norby, this coming of winter tale is the story of an abandoned and lonely boy and his aged and equally abandoned cousin during the Great Depression in rural Alabama.

Leif Norby as Buddy in Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Photo by Patrick Weishampel.

Parked with relatives, the seven-year-old Capote became best friends with this strange little woman who brought him into the innocent magic of her life. It’s as sweet a tale as ever one could hear, rich with chilly morning sunshine, the smell of forest duff and freshly shelled pecans, and whiskey from Mr. Ha Ha Jones. There’s magic baking in the old iron stove, lots of local color, and a bittersweet ending. Perfect for this time of year.

In Winter Song, written by Merideth Kaye Clark and Brandon Woolley, Clark, Leif Norby, and pianist Mont Chris Hubbard present a medley of winter songs by such popular music icons as Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel, to name a couple.

While they songs are evocative of winter and the winter holidays, they speak mainly to the themes of home and homecoming. “Winter is the most emotionally complicated season,” said Clark of the inspiration behind Winter Song. “The music that it inspires is rich. There are, of course, holiday songs. But we were more interested in the music that captures other winter feelings. Traveling home or hunkering down in the cold. The loneliness and isolation the darkness brings. The gatherings of families and communities.”

Music director Mont Chris Hubbard, left, with, Meredith Kaye Clark, and Leif Norby in Winter Song. Photo by Patrick Weishampel.

Clark is a powerhouse singer, who also plays “anything with strings”. She is best known locally for her one woman show, Blue, which featured the songs of Joni Mitchell. Worthy of special mention is the keyboard work of Mont Chris Hubbard who, incidentally, never looked at his keyboard through the entire performance. This guy is magic.

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