A Breakfast Date on Broadway: Truman Capote's Classic Story Reborn on the Stage

By Robert Simonson
March 11, 2013

Holly Golightly, American literature's enigmatic party girl of Truman Capote's novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's," comes alive in a new memory-play adaptation by Richard Greenberg. The stars and director of the Broadway production talk about the iconic story of reinventing yourself — and finding your voice.



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It's Holly Golightly. But it's not the movie. It's the book.

That was the prevailing message from the cast and creatives of the current Broadway debut of Breakfast at Tiffany's, a new stage adaptation of the famous 1958 Truman Capote novella by playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain) , and mounted by the English director Sean Mathias. This is not Mathias' first experience staging the Capote piece, which tells of a mysterious, glamorous young escort who fascinates Fred, the story's narrator, and everyone else around her, with her free-living attitude toward life. In 2009, he directed a completely different version of the story on London's West End. That production, adapted by Samuel Anderson, starred Anna Friel and was poorly received.

"It landed on my desk in London about five years ago," said Mathias of the script. "I've had a relationship with Capote most of my adult life. I knew the film. When the title came to me, I thought, 'Why would I want to do that? It's such a great movie. It would be professional suicide.' But then I went straight back to this book and thought, 'Wow, this is such a beautiful book.'"

Cory Michael Smith after the first preview of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Photo by Monica Simoes

Greenberg's adaptation is said to be faithful to the original story, and includes characters that were left out of the film, including bartender Joe Bell, who is played by George Wendt in the Broadway show.

"What Richard Greenberg has done so beautifully is show events in that relationship [between Holly and Fred] in which I try to involve myself in her life," said Cory Michael Smith (recently of Off-Broadway's Cock), who plays Fred, the young writer who relates the story. "You see our relationship building, which you don't get so much in the novella." Smith is on stage the entire length of the play, which is introduced by an older Fred of 1957 looking back at a time in his life 14 years earlier.

"Great writing is timeless," said Mathias when asked why 2013 was the right year to tell this story anew. "And this is a beautifully written piece. It's funny, it's witty, it's romantic. It's also non-techno. This is a heart and blood and guts story. This is about human beings. It's about who we are as people. It's about what it is to be an individual, what it is to be in love, and what it is to live in New York City in 1943, which is a very important element. The book is set during wartime."

Everyone in the cast concurred about the quality of Capote's original tale. "I've really never known what the fuss was about Truman Capote," admitted Wendt, who didn't read "Breakfast at Tiffany's" until he was offered the play. "I thought he was cute on the chat shows. But I really didn't understand what a ridiculously good writer he was."

Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly
Photo by Jason Bell

In searching for his Broadway Holly — a character memorably played by Audrey Hepburn in the movie (Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe for the part) — Mathias said, "What I was looking for I didn't think I would ever get, and I got it absolutely. I was looking for a new, young actress, because Holly Golightly is 18 years, 10 months old when the story starts. I wanted someone young. And I thought I wouldn't get that. Because of all the pressure of doing a Broadway show, you have to have a big name, and that wouldn't necessarily be someone young."

The ball of "youth, freshness, charm, beauty, and lots of talent," that he found is Emilia Clarke, best known to the public for her work in the blood-sex-and-fantasy HBO series "Game of Thrones"

"It wasn't so much I was looking for a stage job," said Clarke, 25, who is brunette and petite. "It's just that this happened and there was no way I was going to say no."

Mathias said he had never even asked Clarke if she had seen the film version of the book. So this reporter did. "Oh, yeah!" said Clarke. "I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn from an early age. I've seen everything she's ever done. But as soon as the book came into my life, the movie fell out. Holly within the novella — there's a lot more from which to draw as an actor."

She continued, "I've been taking it step by step. For a girl who doesn't live in the past, she has a huge past. The Great Depression, the South, the great drought. That's where I started. That's been a way into understanding how she came to be who she is in Manhattan."

Clarke, who was born in London, has an English accent, but for the masquerading Southern girl Holly, she'll be adapting "a kind of Jackie Kennedy, Martha's Vineyard, Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn accent — that kind of era."

Truman Capote

Smith is likewise delving into his character, which Capote partly patterned on himself. "When you read the book, it's basically about Fred talking about his love obsession with this enigmatic figure," said Smith. "He stalks her but never tries to write about her because he doesn't know how. She's way too complicated. So he just always wants to be around her. He follows her and hangs around her circle.

"The thing that's beautiful or tragic about it is, 14 years later, I'm still talking about her [in the memory-play frame]. It's me trying to let go of, or understand, this love I have for this woman. Was I in love with her? Was I in love with being able to write this character? Do I envy the kind of person she is, this spirited, opportunistic person who has no boundaries, is completely free and open, as I'm more restrained and conservative?"

Had Smith ever known anyone like Holly Golightly? "I have certainly had people in my life who have expanded my boundaries. Not unlike Fred, I find myself being attracted to people who are more unabashed and unpredictable than I am."

And is there any bit of Holly lurking inside the real Emilia Clarke? "I think that Holly enjoys having fun and so do I," she said. "She's a girl who enjoys being happy and that's definitely something I can relate to." Also: "I have maybe almost as many shoes and dresses as she does."