Truman Capote's stage adaptation of his novel, The Grass Harp, is a curious fusion of poetic sensitivity and imperfect theatrical technique. Clearly, Mr. Capote was hampered at the outset by the limited number of ways in which one can write a play. He had a quixotic plot and a tragic theme to work with, and inexplicably be chose straight comedy for his dramatic medium. Regrettably his continual resort to stock comic artifices detracts greatly from the important thematic development of the play.
The story of The Grass Harp revolves around an emotional conflict between two middle aged spinsters, the Misses Dolly and Varena Talbo, who live in a small town with her nephew. Dolly discovers that her domineering sister wants to exploit a secret Dropsy cure that she had discovered, and she promptly bundles off her nephew and the cook to a tree house in a nearby forest.
Two allegorical themes are developed during the stay in the tree house, the first of which deals with Dolly's spiritual regeneration, as her imaginative mind finds itself wholly in harmony with the new environment. Implicit in this theme is the conflict of the individual in a stereotyped society, and Capote has stacked the cards heavily. In the second act Capote also develops a contrast of different kinds of love, all of which form a coherent theory until the final scene, when they become muddled in a contrived denouement.
It is much easier to point out the bad aspects of this play, which are for the most part structural, than it is to put one's finger on the good. The defects, such as the dubious comic relief provided by he shenanigans of a young woman named Baby Love Dallas, can be sharpened up in a couple of weeks. The high quality of lyric beauty in much of the dialogue, however, cannot be lost. One outstanding merit of the present production is Mildred Natwick's perceptive interpretation of Dolly Talbo, while Georgia Burke, as Catherine the cook, is consistently amusing in her role of wry observer of the extraordinary proceedings. Finally Cecil Beaton's scenery, particularly the forest setting, is extra-ordinarily effective.