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Tennessee Williams 1982

Theatre Review by Howard Miller


Kate Skinner and Patrick Darwin Williams
Photo by Antonis Achilleos

A pair of late career one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, one of which is receiving its world premiere, reflect the master playwright in his most experimental absurdist mode in the Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company production at Walkerspace, under the collective title of Tennessee Williams 1982.

Williams uses the pieces, both of which were penned in the year before his death, to depict savagely cruel worlds, where survival is a matter of resourcefulness and luck, and where both have a way of running out on a moment's notice. Amateur psychologists will have a field day probing into the state of mind of the playwright toward the end of his life, and fans will wonder at the wildly off-path direction his writing has taken. Anyone looking for the Williams of The Glass Menagerie should walk on by.

The first play, the one having its inaugural production, is titled A Recluse And His Guest. Set in a "far northern town in a remote time," it has the feel of a Nordic myth. A stranger, a woman named Nevrika (Kate Skinner), appears in a winter-locked village trying to cadge a stale piece of bread from the bakery. She is penniless and desperate, and not above turning tricks in an alleyway to survive. Eventually, she takes up with the town's recluse, Ott (Ford Austin), and attempts to establish some sort of life with him in his ramshackle boarded-up house. Their relationship warms, but remains tenuous at best, and the play ends on an ambiguous note in which, one way or the other, Nevrika seems to have reached the end of her journey.

The second play, which is having its first New York showing, is called The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde . If there is a Brechtian feel to the first play (with Nevrika, living by her wits, as a sort of "Mother Courage" figure), this one inhabits a very dark corner of a universe that might have been conjured up by Eugène Ionesco by way of a drugged-out Lewis Carroll. It does feature a tea party of sorts, in which a distorted version of a Mad Hatter character called Hall (Patrick Darwin Williams, resplendent in his shocking pink suit) descends upon a former school chum, Mint (Jade Ziane) in the latter's seedy London attic room (the flotsam-and-jetsam set design for both plays is by Justin West, while Angela Wendt is responsible for the ragtag look of the costumes).

Hall proceeds to regale Mint with fond memories of the good old days at their prep school, "Scrotum-On-Swansea," while drinking up all the tea and scarfing down all the biscuits. Mint, though starving for the food and drink that has been grudgingly provided by his landlady, Mme. Le Monde (Kate Skinner again), is unable to get to the rapidly disappearing provisions due to the fact that he cannot walk and is forced to move about the room by hooking himself up to ropes and swinging from one to the other. Indeed, Mint is both literally and figuratively at the end of his rope, broke, subjected to periodic rape by Mme. Le Monde's psychotic son (Declan Eells), and about to be evicted. None of this matters an iota to Hall, who has actually come to connive the landlady into purchasing some phony stock shares he is peddling. In the end, it is the cruel world (as in "Le Monde") that triumphs over all three of the male characters, with the landlady merely making note of the fact that "the loss of one fool makes room for another."

Director Cosmin Chivu is no stranger to lifting lesser-known Williams plays out of obscurity and not only dusting them off, but polishing them to a high gleam. This was certainly true of the 2013 production of The Mutilated at the New Ohio Theatre, in which every element worked together to make it a real treat for the eye and ear. Here, however, the effort falls short, and even the accomplished cast of experienced Equity actors seems befuddled by the text. Only Kate Skinner has managed to locate the secret heart of Nevrika, and if you keep a close eye on that character in the first play, you'll see some of the old Williams life spirit as well. But really, both works are raw and visceral and unpolished, so much so that the plays are of likely interest mainly to scholars, die-hard Williams aficionados, and curiosity-seekers.


Tennessee Williams 1982
Through March 13
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street between Broadway and Church Streets
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: www.brownpapertickets.com


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