The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
Olympia Dukakis plays Mrs. Goforth (also called Flora or Sissy), an older woman dictating her memoirs as she prepares to die, sometime during the early 1960s. She initially appears on a bed in one of her villas atop a mountain along the southern coast of Italy. Jeff Cowie's eye-catching, beautiful set is fully captivating. According to Rui Rita's lighting shifts, indoor and outdoor furniture is either silver or a creamy off-white. Cowie furnishes simulated rocks and boulders and three lengthy, transparent curtains toward the rear of the stage. With a couple of bridges and the roar of the sea (thanks to John Gromada), the production elements are superb and enhancing.
Mrs. Goforth, audacious and self-centered, speaks of various husbands she once had. She dismisses many and recalls the final one for his good looks. Speaking either in person or via microphone to her dutiful secretary, Blackie (Maggie Lacey), Dukakis' Goforth is brazen, barbed, and forever feisty.
An exhausted visitor, Chris Flanders (Kevin Anderson) comes upon the scene. He seems to have an affinity and need for tending to terminal older women. Having completed a difficult hike up the steep mountain, Flanders brings with him a mobile he's fashioned and a book of his own verse. Nomadic, Flanders rekindles desire within Flora. He's famished, but she makes certain, initially, that he has nothing to eat. Not surprisingly, he finds the attractive Blackie physically alluring. She, later, reciprocates.
The final character to appear is The Witch of Capri (Judith Roberts), who is very much aware of Flanders' reputation. She refers to the good looking, middle-aged man as "The Angel of Death," and isn't shy about voicing her blunt feelings. In fact, she wouldn't mind if Chris made the trek to her mountain. Why not?
Dukakis takes on Mrs. Goforth with joie de vivre and a "why not, what the hell" attitude. She wears costumer David Woolard's Kabuki dance attire with flair and panache. It's a multi-dimensional performance which perfectly suits a woman of many moods. With Flanders in view, Sissy forgets her age and limited life span.
The problem is that Williams draws forth little sympathy for any of his characters. His dialogue, as ever, intrigues. Many of his plays utilize sexuality as a metaphor of life. Yet Milk Train is a play about death and dying. One feels the fright of isolation within a sometimes over-the-top Flora. Here is one wish for some symbol of hope to balance dread of the coming abyss. Blackie, youthful and engaging, might be on the cusp. In the end, we lose sight of her as the plot spins more specifically about the protagonist, Mrs. Goforth.
There is often a brutal quality to Tennessee Williams which is complemented by his poetic writing. While he provides some comedy (seized upon by Dukakis) with Milk Train, it's a pretty dark drama with little opportunity for redemption. Michael Wilson, who is adept with Williams, offers detailed direction.
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore continues through June 15th at Hartford Stage. For ticket information call (860) 527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol