Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Marin Theatre Company has the pleasure of presenting the first "major" production of Tennessee William's unproduced play Spring Storm. Mr. Williams wrote the play at the age of 26 in 1937 while studying playwriting at the University of Iowa. It was written just before he wrote Not About Nightingales.
Storm was rediscovered among William's papers at he University of Texas three years ago. Scholar Don Isaac staged a reading of the script in New York but it was passed up by major companies including Lincoln Center, Mark Taper Forum and New York's Public Theater. However, Lee Sankowich of the Marin Theatre Company secured the rights for the play's world premier. The Actors Rep of Texas beat Marin Theatre by presenting the play one week prior to the opening here. However MTC poured $250,000 into this production making it the play that critics wanted to see. They also hired good equity actors from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The play is set in a small town in Mississippi in 1937 and it centers on the romance between a pampered Southern belle named Heavenly Critchfield and her working class beau and old schoolmate Dick. These two are having an affair, which makes Heavenly more or less a rebel. Dick is anxious to escape the stultifying small town atmosphere and he wants to work on a river barge. However Heavenly wants something more then being a wife to a river 'rat'.
Heavenly's social climbing Mother wants her to marry another old schoolmate, rich boy Arthur Shannon. Arthur is sensitive and bookish and is obsessed with Heavenly. The big question is will she run off and join Dick or staying the town and marry the rich Arthur. I won't reveal the ending.
There is a sub plot that provides a catalyst for the play's wry ending. The town librarian, Hertha, one of those passionate and repressed spinsters so beloved by Williams is in love with Arthur. There is a wonderful scene in the third act between Arthur and Hertha where Arthur reveals his true feelings about the spinster. Here you see the beginning of scenes from Williams's future plays like Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof These four characters lurch through an absorbing rite of spring.
Unfortunately Tennessee Williams tried to cram more characters, plot and social milieu into his drama than it can hold. He had not yet learned the economy of place and of dramatic action that would be found in his later plays. He had not yet honed his skill at dialogue since some of the speeches are very amateurish. However, there are some sharp, comic quips and intensely poetic passages in the play. On the other side of the coin he has written awkward locutions and portentous phrases that are somewhat comical to modern audiences.
There are some wonderful performances here. The best is the astonishing Stacy Ross who plays Hertha, the librarian. Her breakdown in the library is exquisitely painful to watch. She is sublimely focused in the performance. One can see the starting of the spinster in Summer and Smoke. Linda Hoy as usual is superb in the role of Aunt Lila. She is a salty and sympathetic character. Mr. Williams could have made a play that centered around the maiden aunt of Heavenly. Her appearance on stage sparked the production.
New York actor Richard Robichaux played the lead character of Arthur, a complicated and conflicted individual. He was very vibrant and impish in a crucial drunk scene but he otherwise reveals little of Arthur's rolling emotions. His scenes with the librarian are refreshing and energizing. Allison McDonald plays Heavenly. With her lush blond hair and tight sweater, she looks suitably listless and alluring. However she never quite opens up to this role. One can see this was muted study of Blanche DuBois in Streetcar and also Alma in Summer and Smoke.
James Gannon plays Dick with a Brando like mumbling. One could say it is a Stanley Kowalski in training. However he does not bring much to the character. Sharon Lockwood plays Heavenly's mother and she does it a little too edgy and frantic. Again you can see this is a warm up part for Amanda in The Glass Menagerie.
In Spring Storm Mr. Williams was testing out a lot of things. His take on small southern towns, his intuitive grasp of his characters and the faint introduction of the characters Williams eventually used to make theater history. The production runs to December 12.