Admittedly, it would be hard to argue that The Mutilated, first (and last) seen in New York back in 1966 as half of a short-lived double bill titled Slapstick Tragedy, is a hitherto undiscovered diamond. But at the very least, it is a lovingly polished zircon, and it could not be in better hands.
The play reflects a kinder, gentler Williams, who has imbued The Mutilated with an air of Yuletide hope, a gift from a playwright who has obviously fallen in love with his characters — just as an early version of The Glass Menagerie, a one-act called The Pretty Trap, offered up a fairy tale ending for Laura.
With The Mutilated, one of the two central characters should be familiar to fans of the playwright; a woman of a certain age, wealthy, self-centered, lonely, hungry for young men, and terminally ill. Williams certainly was quite capable of painting an ugly portrait of such a character when he was so inclined (Mrs. Goforth in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore comes to mind). But here, we've got a much more sympathetic creation in Trinket Dugan, wonderfully portrayed by Mink Stole, who mines the role for every ounce of Trinket's vulnerability and Williams's poetic language.
What redeems Trinket from her psychological trap is the real surprise of the play. Her rescuer is the cheap, blowsy, loud, crude, and generally offensive Celeste Delecroix Griffin, gloriously played by Penny Arcade. Celeste, an over-the-hill prostitute and a not-very-successful shoplifter, embraces life no matter what is thrown at her. She is homeless, hungry, and rejected, yet none of this upsets her apple cart. Trinket and Celeste are the yin and yang of the play, like Samuel Beckett's Didi and Gogo. They fight like cats and dogs, but in the end it is their friendship that is their saving grace, leading to the apparent miracle with which the play ends.
Mink Stole, long associated with the films of John Waters, and Penny Arcade, a performance artist with long-standing downtown creds, are ideally cast in their respective roles. The rest of the supporting players do a wonderful job representing the denizens of the South Rampart Street fleabag hotel where the play unfolds on a Christmas Eve. They not only take on the smaller roles, but also serve as a group of carolers/Greek chorus - which takes us to the production's other great strength, the toe-tapping music provided by Jesse Selengut and the very talented band, Tin Pan. The music draws you in from the time you enter the theater, and you are instantly transported to the French Quarter. The suggestive set design by Anka Lupes adds nicely to the atmosphere.
It really is the stellar work by everyone involved, under the inspired direction of Cosmin Chivu, that raises The Mutilated to a high level of pleasure and accessibility for an audience and makes it a must-see for admirers of Tennessee Williams. The playwright was extraordinarily prolific, and there are many more of his lesser-known works that need to be reconsidered for similarly imaginative productions. Let's hope the creative team behind The Mutilated gets the opportunity to collaborate once more.