THE BLOG
03/29/2013 01:06 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany's : A Dog's Dinner

Quit stalling around and let's cut to the chase. No Audrey Hepburn, no Holly Golightly. The proof lies there on the stage of the Cort Theatre, choking on flat, leftover, room-temperature champagne from an old party that goes down like cough syrup, in a misguided and charmless attempt to resuscitate Truman Capote's magical 1958 literary sensation Breakfast at Tiffany's that fails on every level. How many ways can you spell d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r ?

Poor Truman. His bubbly little allegory about a deluded runaway hillbilly named Lula Mae Barnes from Tulip, Texas who invests considerable time, energy and other people's money re-inventing herself by making New York her oyster has never worked anywhere outside the exclusive splendor of the author's own extravagant literary imagination. An aborted TV pilot with Stephanie Powers failed, as well as an earlier production in London with Anna Friel by the current director, Sean Mathias, and we won't go into what Edward Albee did to the musical version with Mary Tyler Moore in 1966, a flop so dismal that David Merrick closed it down only days before its scheduled Broadway opening. I saw the final historic preview at the Majestic Theatre where it was loudly booed by a sold-out Who'sWho of Broadway luminaries, and I will never forget brave, desperate Mary singing the mournful title song in a prison cell, strapped to the bed with the shadows of window bars across her face. And it might seem like sacrilege to some, but Capote himself hated the popular 1961 movie in which the jackhammer thud of Blake Edwards' direction substituted vulgarity for the author's original wit. The movie didn't have much of the author's sparkle left, but it did have Audrey Hepburn, who made even the dark side of Holly Golightly seem like an elegant Givenchy gamine who turned Woolworth beads into Tiffany pearls and even dressed up for heartbreak with her stocking seams straight.

And now we have the worst of them all -- a cardboard Holly Golightly with no personality at all. Originally created as the eccentric, glamorous embodiment of a gay man's fantasy -- Capote's version of Christopher Isherwood's Sally Bowles -- she's got such a parade of men with rent money staggering drunkenly in and out of her brownstone bedroom that playwright Richard Greenberg has turned a once-vulnerable party girl with real fun in her fake laughter into something pathetically bordering on a neurotic slut. Her adaptable system of screwy values is still viewed with unrequited longing by the gay upstairs neighbor she calls "Fred" after her brother who died in the war (the whole thing is awkwardly set in 1957 but related, in flashbacks, to World War Two). The struggling writer and wannabe Capote stand-in who was transformed on film into a preposterous hustler played by George Peppard and is now re-imagined as a bisexual preppie who works on his seduction technique in a naked bathtub scene so gratuitously pointless it inspires gasps and giggles. The casting is catastrophic. Pretty Emilia Clarke still gets the "mean reds" when something bad is about to happen but she doesn't know what it is, and she still strokes her stray orange tabby called "Cat" ("Poor slob with no name," she shrugs, reluctant to commit to anything, including a pet). She still visits the gangster Sally Tomato in Sing Sing for illegal drug smuggling activities disguised as weather reports, crawls up and down the fire escape in a towel, and even sings a song, but it ain't "Moon River." As "Fred," the callow and anonymous narrator of this memory piece, Cory Michael Smith is a handsome, versatile and appealing actor (memorable in the controversial British import Cock, bastardized on this side of the pond as Cockfight Play) who finds himself hopelessly rowing through a sea of mud with his bare hands -- thin as a Q-tip and sexy as a turnip. He works up a sweat trying to impart some blithe notion of Capote's capricious style, even appearing starkers. But how can you act while you're busy covering up your family heirlooms with your bare hands?

The outline of the plot vaguely follows Capote's novella, but the Richard Greenberg adaptation is heavy as cement. Strains of '40s band tunes like "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" float through the air without any sense of time or place. Without Capote's deliciously parsed but always decorous prose style, the noisy, drunken visitors and eccentric neighbors just seem contrived, while the dialogue comes out alarmingly superficial. With no trajectory, it's an evening about people saying things -- words strung together to form an empty, silly, and meandering narrative. Nothing works. It's a musical with all the song cues and no tunes. You go away depressed, which -- trust me on this -- is not what Truman Capote had in mind.

"Time continues to pass -- without meaning," Fred reads from his journal. Yeah, like Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Subscribe to the Culture Shift email.
Get your weekly dose of books, film and culture.