If the cat is a potent symbol in the story of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," so too is it one in the new play version that has landed on Broadway.
A real cat appears in Holly Golightly's arms in Act 1 and seems, to put it mildly, dismayed. (In the last preview, it scratched the star on its way offstage.) The feline then reappears toward the end of the play to thoroughly undermine a key dramatic scene by waddling away nonchalantly. The cat is also there when the curtain falls, looking appropriately sleepy.
The cat — all three animals playing the part ludicrously get their own Playbill entries — is just one of the problems in this ill-conceived and poorly executed adaptation of a classic American tale that opened Wednesday at the Cort Theatre.
The many scenes stubbornly refuse to add up to much and it remains as flat as Golightly is supposed to be effervescent. Richard Greenberg's adaptation of Truman Capote's classic 1958 novella is extremely faithful — some chunks of dialogue have been lifted directly from the book — without adding much. Actually, director Sean Mathias has tacked on more complexity to scenes for reasons that are unclear and his transitions are often brusque.
It stars Emilia Clarke of HBO's "Game of Thrones" as the doomed eccentric party girl Golightly, a role Audrey Hepburn played to acclaim in the 1961 movie. People coming to see a sanitized Golightly, Hubert de Givenchy-inspired costumes and "Moon River" will be disappointed. This is set during World War II, not the 1960s of the film, and is much grittier, with references to homosexuality, drug use and prostitution out in the open.
Clarke gamely tries hard but tends to overact and sometimes seems to have picked the wrong Hepburn — Katharine, not Audrey — to model her accent. She says "darling" too much, appears nude in a completely unnecessary bathtub scene and plays guitar while singing in another, but that drags on so long it undercuts its poignancy. She is ultimately believable as a vulnerable woman hiding behind a sophisticated facade but is undone by a lackluster story and overly fancy direction.
Cory Michael Smith as Fred also tries hard, but he is shaky in parts and seems unwilling to reveal what exactly Fred hopes to desperately achieve with his friendship with Golightly. It is his responsibility to both narrate the story and be part of it, which leads to awkwardness when scenes are half-baked.
Part of the problem also is that minor Capote characters — like neighbor Madame Sapphia Spanella, a tiny sketch in an already short novel — have been given life, but there's not enough flesh on the bone. There are more than a dozen actors swirling around a show that needs to feel smaller.
Greenberg, who wrote the award-winning "Take Me Out," seems always to want to remind us that we're at the end of World War II, whether it's someone mentioning Mussolini — during a dance segment, no less — or having a ham-fisted reference to the evils of Japanese-American internment camps in order to have an Asian character (James Yaegashi, a bright spot) have more depth.
The story is also undone by odd choices onstage. Why is Fred handed an overcoat at various times by a silent butler? Why does Joe Bell (a completely miscast George Wendt from "Cheers" fame) recite dialogue in unison with another character to show a time shift only for the play to then immediately abandon this storytelling technique? And why does the tone sometimes dip into bad film noir, what with all that rain and thunder?
While Wendall K. Harrington's projections and Colleen Atwood's costumes are first-rate — romantic and stylish for Clarke and faithful to the era — Derek McLane's sets are unusually flimsy, with one unmoored door sweeping across the stage with as much frequency as a crazed Roomba. The last preview was marred slightly by the crash of broken cups as the bar set failed to follow stage directions. Like the cat.
Come to think of it, maybe the cat can be forgiven for bad behavior. It has, after all, had to sit through too much of this.