Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
A Cavalier for Milady and The Traveling Companion
Also see Dean's reviews of Frost/Nixon and Lady Windermere's Fan
This is the year of Tennessee Williams, the hundredth anniversary of his birth. You can catch his classics all across town this year. The Vortex presented a lively Night of the Iguana. A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie are coming up. See www.abqtheatre.org for details. But the Desert Rose Playhouse took the obscure road into Williams' less known and weirder workand we're fortunate to ride on this strange trip.
Desert Rose tackles A Cavalier for Milady and The Traveling Companion, two of Williams' late one-act plays when the master turned away from writing realistic blockbusters and took the experimental high road. Many of his one-acts, including The Traveling Companion, didn't even get produced until after Williams' death. Both plays are brilliant, and the Desert Rose delivers them well.
A Cavalier for Milady
Mom and her friend leave nonetheless, and as soon as they leave, Nance begins a prolonged sexual fantasy with the Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. The sitter is horrified by Nance's hallucinations. Taking things up a notch, Nijinsky (Bradd Howard) appears and spars with Nance over whether an apparition can engage in sexual play. The babysitter leaves the room in disgust and we spend some whacky time in Nance's fantasy with Nijinsky. The interplay is the heart of this one-act.
The play winds down with Mom and friend returning and dispensing with the babysitter. While Nance continues to go in and out of her fantasy, Mom and Mrs. Aid discuss whether Nance needs to be institutionalizedthat is, in-between planning their next night's escort adventure.
The cast delivers a strong ensemble performance. Nijinsky's dance outfit is an odd choicefor one, it doesn't fitbut he's an apparition after all. The scene-stealer is Catalina as Nance. She pushes the delivery nearly to camp, but holds back just enough to keep the performance at a high sexual pitch that doesn't topple. In another nice touch, the photos of Nijinsky are projected on the back wall during Nance's encounters with the dancer.
The Traveling Companion
Tennessee Williams was 70 when he wrote The Traveling Companion, the story of an aging writer named Vieux who buys the services of a young-buck traveling companion with benefits. The traveling companion is a rough young hustler who hasn't comes to terms with everything his job entails.
Vieux is a beautiful mess. He's on the far side of a brilliant career, falling apart now in slow motion, dependent on his drugs, his wine, and his paid traveling buddy. He seems content with his cushy downfall, but he's having trouble with the cultural changes that have produced a population of traveling companions of a much rougher cut than he's accustomed to. It's actually quite a daring play for a gay playwright on his own cushy downslide. Unlike A Cavalier for Milady, this play seems fully grounded in real life.
Ray Orley is an absolute delight as Vieux. At first he comes on as nearly annoying in his nervous peculiarities, but he settles down into a charming, nearly loving character. His concerns are superficial and intense. He needs the right wine, he needs the drug case close at hand. His only real problem is that his new traveling companion, Beau, doesn't understand what is expected of him.
Beau is played wonderfully by Matthew Van Wettering. His biggest challenge during the beginning of the scene in the Essex House Hotel (the massive hotel on Central Park South) is to do nothing. It must be excruciating to stand there minute-after-endless-minute with nothing to do while Vieux goes through his extended opening soliloquy.
Once Beau begins interacting with Vieux, the play wakes up. Van Wettering plays the punk beautifully, in full self-absorption. The two characters talk past each other. Vieux disdains Beau's personal concerns over a broken friendship, offering a condescending brush-off. Beau is disgusted with Vieuxnothing personal here, as Beau would be disgusted with anyone who takes part in his hustle. The play ends with a sweet surprise that flips the entire awkward and verbally brutal interaction between the men.
Kudos to Rose Provan for fine direction, especially while playing a substantial role in A Cavalier for Milady. And thanks to the Desert Rose Playhouse for risking this lesser known side of Williams. Quite a treat, especially in a small market like Albuquerque. In her "Director's Notes," Provan quotes Williams appropriately. He said he envisioned his short plays for small theatre production, hoping they would be "an irritant in the shell of their community." Provan goes on to say, "Our small theatre plans for the 'irritant' to produce a pearl." It did.
A Cavalier for Milady and The Traveling Companion, by Tennessee Williams are directed by Rose Provan. The production runs at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 6921 Montgomery Blvd.. NE , through September 4. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $12. Students, seniors and ATG members are $10. For reservations, call 505-881-0503.