Patricia Neal, Joel Vig perform

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal and noted Broadway actor Joel Vig performed Vig’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s short story “A Christmas Memory” Sunday afternoon.

The performance wasn’t seen on Broadway, in the movies or on TV. The actors came to Rooster Hall in Demopolis for the performance.

An almost-capacity crowd was welcomed by William Gantt, who spoke of Demopolis’s membership in the Southern Literary Trail, a collaboration of 18 Southern towns from Natchez, Miss., to Savannah, Ga., celebrating internationally renowned writers and playwrights of the 20h Century who were inspired by their communities.

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This March, every Trail community will present plays, movies, tours and discussion panels that explore the masterworks of Southern literature and honor their authors.

Gantt mentioned that playwright Lillian Hellman, who penned “The Little Foxes,” has her roots in Demopolis. Other nearby communities in the Southern Literary Trail include Monroeville (Truman Capote, Harper Lee), Montgomery (F. Scott Fitzgerald) and Columbus, Miss. (Tennessee Williams).

A new logo for the Southern Literary Trail designed by Demopolis native Kirk Brooker was unveiled, and the play began.

The actors read from prepared scripts of Vig’s adaptation, but gave very good performances in the one-scene production.

“A Christmas Memory” is Capote’s biographical short story of his last Christmas while living with his aunts in Monroeville when he was 7.

Neal and Vig marked their second visit to Demopolis, having performed the same production at Lyon Hall last year.

“I love it,” Neal said of the short story, “and Joel wrote the script from the story. (Capote) was a great writer.”

“The first time I ever heard (the story) read aloud was by Truman Capote himself when I was in college,” Vig said. “He came as part of a writers’ conference. I think the story is so evocative of the time and place. It is so rich with capturing the particular people. The way that he writes, the exposition, is so beautiful, it just flows almost like music. So, it’s exciting to work on the piece.

“We performed it for the Theater Guild — I think it was 15 years ago — and we’ve done it in the oddest places. We done it sailing up the Amazon, we’ve done it in the Mediterranean, we’ve done it at the Tennessee Williams festival in New Orleans, up in Alaska at the Edward Albee festival. We’ve had an interesting life.”

Despite having suffered a number of strokes in her lifetime — the first coming at age 39 — Neal at age 82 remains very active.

“I live in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer,” she said, “and I travel a lot, you see. I packed it up at the end of October, and decided to come to New York — which I have a little apartment there.

“From here, I’m going to go to Atlanta, Ga., where I’ll see my sister and my brother and my brother’s wife, and then I’ll go to Knoxville, Tenn., from there. I have a hospital named for me there. It’s called the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Hospital, and it’s very good. We’re going to have a golf competition. From there, I will go to my son in Florida in Fort Myers. It’s going to be Thanksgiving, and we’ll have a good time.”

Vig stays busy with productions, finding himself writing lines as well as reading them.

“Just this fall, I directed Tammy Grimes’ nightclub act, which played in New York at the Metropolitan Room,” he said. “Then I’d done an adaptation of an Arthur Miller play at the Theater Festival. Then, I went to the Tennessee Williams festival in Clarksdale, Miss., and performed a piece called ‘Mr. Williams and Miss Wood.’ We were part of a BBC documentary that was being done.

“Right now, I’m doing research for a one-man piece about another Alabama writer named Eugene Walter, who was born in Mobile, then he went to New York, Paris and Rome and came back to Mobile and was sort of the Renaissance Man of Mobile. I just finished a new film coming out about him. I help have a screening happen in New York at the National Arts Club called, ‘Eugene Walter: The Last Bohemian.’ I’m also working on an adaptation of a novel into a screenplay.”

“He’s a hard worker!” Neal interjected.

The play was an excellent piece of theater, and an appropriate way to give information about the Southern Literary Trail and the part Demopolis plays in it. The heritage in Demopolis is widely varied, from athletics to academics to the arts, and it is something that will secure the city as a true Southern treasure.

For more information about the Southern Literary Trail, visit the Web site