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Boston by Suzanne Bixby

The Rose Tattoo

The Rose Tatto
Andrea Martin and Dominic Fumusa
There may be a Tennessee Williams retrospective at The Kennedy Center, but the real celebration is happening on the other end of the Northeast corridor at Boston's Huntington Theatre. The two Martins - director Nicholas and actress Andrea - who took a sabbatical from sanity together with Betty's Summer Vacation in 2001, are at it again with Williams' comic folktale The Rose Tattoo.

Set in a fictional rural community of Sicilian immigrants "somewhere along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile, " the play was Williams' valentine to his companion Frank Merlo, a thank you for introducing him to the wonders of Sicily and all things Italian.

Williams wrote the part of the feisty but emotionally frozen widow Serafina delle Rose with Anna Magnani in mind. She declined the role fearing her English wasn't good enough for the stage so, instead, The Rose Tattoo in 1951 made the much younger Maureen Stapleton into a star and a Tony winner. (Magnani earned an Oscar for her English language debut in the film version a few years later.)

The pint-sized Andrea Martin more than makes the part her own. On stage for almost the entire play, she enlivens James Noone's magical setting as if a team of animators had imagined her. When her husband Rosario crashes and burns in his 10-ton banana truck at the hands of some dubious business partners, she's transformed from a luscious celebrant of love in the first two scenes into a woman unable to dress and leave the house for three years in the next.

Unkempt and numb with grief, Serafina is immobilized at her sewing machine until her teenaged daughter (the charming Greta Storace) suddenly abandons her tomboy ways and offers her heart - and more - to a young sailor (the irresistible Ryan Sypek.) The watchful mother springs into action to try and save her only child from the certain heartbreak of love.

The production springs to life at this point as well when Serafina first locks up the girl's clothes so she can't leave the house, and then, when all else fails, forces the boy in question to swear to the Holy Mother that he will respect the innocence of her daughter.

Praying to the Madonna herself, Serafina begs for a sign. Her answer arrives in the form of Alvaro (Dominic Fumusa) an opportunistic young banana truck driver who's the grandson of the village idiot and, in a certain light, has the body - though not the face - of her late husband. Their comic seduction cranks up the hilarity another few notches for the last two acts.

At its best, this production has the look and feel of lyrical musical theatre, especially when the stage is overrun with an assortment of children and other folk-like characters chasing after the witch's goat. The many transitions are punctuated by the romantic lighting of Kevin Adams and evocative music from composer Mark Bennett.

And Williams' tendency towards the poetic and symbolic is realized in lovely visual ways, too, when the women liberate their daughters' graduation dresses from Serafina's barricaded home and dance off with them, and again near the end of the play when they pass a rose-colored silk shirt to the half-naked Alvaro after he flees Serafina's house.

The Rose Tattoo at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue in Boston now through June 13th. Performance times are: Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30pm (excluding May 25); Friday and Saturday at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm (excluding May 16 and 23 and June 13); Saturday and Sunday at 2pm (excluding May 15 and 16); and Wednesday at 2pm (June 2 and 9 only). Tickets range from $14 to $64. For tickets or information, call the Huntington Box Office at 617-266-0800 visit their website at www.huntingtontheatre.org.

Special events in connection with The Rose Tattoo:

NIGHT CLUB is sponsored by The Boston Phoenix for theatregoers 35 and under on Thursday, May 20 at 7:30pm, with a post-show reception.

OUT & ABOUT CLUB is sponsored by Bay Windows for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community on Wednesday, May 26 at 7:30pm, with a pre-show reception.

THEATRE 101 is an opportunity to learn more about theatre - both what's on stage and what's happening behind the scenes - with an interactive program at 6pm on Tuesday, June 8.

A POST-PLAY AUDIENCE DISCUSSION will take place for theatergoers on Sunday, June 6, following the 7pm show.

SNEAK PREVIEW, a presentation by a member of the Huntington's artistic staff, featuring contextual background, as well as production-related information, is offered on Tuesday, May 18 and Thursday, June 3, from 6:30 to 7pm in the theatre.

THE ACTORS FORUMS with the cast from The Rose Tattoo on stage after the show for an open dialogue with the audience is on Wednesday, June 9, following the 2pm matinee.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Boston area.



- Suzanne Bixby



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