WITH THE tremendous success of his portrayal of writer Truman Capote, 1990 Tony Award winner Robert Morse hopes he has shed his juvenile image.
Morse first won the Tony and Drama Desk awards when he starred as the charmingly boyish but brash young businessman in the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." The play was later made into a successful motion picture in which Morse also starred. This achievement proved to be a mixed blessing since it established Morse so solidly as a youthful figure that casting agents for years would not consider him seriously as a character actor.
But "Tru," playing at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre through Oct. 28, has changed all that. Written by playwright Jay Presson Allen, the play highlights the days of Capote's life soon after Esquire magazine published a chapter of his last and very controversial book "Answered Prayers." In this work, Capote only thinly disguises the shady secrets of his rich society friends, who now spurn his once treasured company. Morse received the 1990 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards for best actor for his performance.
Morse, now 59 -- which is hard to believe -- is the father of three grown daughters: Andrea, a "movie mogul," and actresses Robin and Hilary. He married advertising executive Elizabeth Roberts during the run of the play and the couple is expecting their first child in April.
"All this in a year! It has really been a Morse year!" exclaims the still boyish-looking actor as relaxes in his
dressing room at the Mechanic before the night's show.
His abundant head of sandy hair is flecked with gray, the waist is a little thicker, but the broad, gap-toothed grin is still the same. He speaks in soft, husky tones.
Morse is trying to rest his voice, which tends to become a little hoarse after his one-hour-and-45-minute solo performance. "It's lonely out there without bread or water," he jokes. "I have been playing this part since last November, eight shows a week. Haven't missed one since I started. Winter, rain and snow; I feel like a postman," he says, laughing.
When Morse was handed the 69-page script for "Tru," he was only given eight weeks for rehearsal. He panicked. "The frenzy was in the leg days of the beginning," he says. "The worry, can I do it? Can I go through with it? But the step-by-step process took the fear out of it. 'Fear' in the dictionary meaning false evidence appearing real." He laughs.
"I closed the shades and started learning the lines. I wasn'worried about the voice. I had that. I never knew Tru, only met him once. I looked at a tape of him when he was a guest on the 'Dick Cavett Show' one time and never looked at it again.
"Allen's script is more a play than a one-man show," he says. "That is its brilliance. You almost see the other characters along the way.
"I felt a tremendous fusion between myself and Tru as an actor would. When that happens I know I'm getting the characterization. It is the culmination of my experience and my strength and hope. You don't analyze, don't question. You just ++ do it. You get to a point where you stay in the now of it.
"Keeping it simple is how I like to work on stage. Let the timincome. All the hard work is done in rehearsal."
Still overwhelmed by the play's great reception by critics and audiences alike, Morse says, "It gives me the wonderful feeling of belonging again. I never imagined I would be back on Broadway. I never dreamed I would receive all those awards. It is stunning. I haven't digested it all yet."
One of three children, the actor was born in Newton, Mass., anattended Newton High School, where his acting and musical talents impressed his teachers.
"My father owned a chain of movie theaters," Morse says. "My mother was a concert pianist. That must have affected what happened at conception . . . my feel of music and movement," he says, smiling. "I always wanted to make people laugh. Even in the Navy on the fantail of a destroyer, I continued to entertain."
After being discharged from the Navy (he fought in the Korean War) Morse enrolled in the American Theater Wing under the G.I. Bill. Later he got a lucky break when Tyrone Guthrie signed him for the role of the assistant clerk, Barnaby Tucker, in Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker." Morse repeated the role in the movie version with Shirley Booth and Shirley MacLaine.
Morse's other notable Broadway roles include: Ted in "Say Darling" (1958 Tony Award nomination), Richard in "Take Me Along" (1959 Tony nomination), Jerry in "Sugar" (1972 Tony nomination) and David in "So long, 174th Street" (1976).
Morse says he will work on other projects when the tour of "Tru" ends. "A little 'Tru' is more than enough,".
"But I don't want to peek too far down the road," he says, grinning impishly. "This is fine for now. I am thankful I can count my toes in the morning."