Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“The world is accident prone, no use attempting correction. After all, the loss of one fool makes room for another.” – Mme. Le Mode
In the 1980s, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC is dedicated and Americans are ready to put the Vietnam War behind them. Interest rates reach an all-time high and Americans cash in on high-yielding Certificates of Deposit. President Ronald Reagan unashamedly proclaims that “greed is good.” During the same decade, around 700,000 demonstrators gather in New York City’s Central Park protesting the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the United States is the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.
Amidst the prosperity of this memorable decade, the matrix of “fears and angers, suspicions and vanities, and [humankind’s] appetites, spiritual and carnal” (Tennessee Williams, from His Memoirs) crouch and Mr. Williams’ pair of plays presented currently stage at Walkerspace by The Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company are a theological and psychological tour de force that exposes the underbelly of humankind’s search for meaning, stability, and salvation amidst the victimization, immobilization, and powerlessness.
The first of the pair, “A Recluse and His Guest,” has its first performance by the Playhouse Crea¬tures Theatre Company at the Walkerspace in New York City. The second, “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde,” was first performed by the Beau Jest Moving Theater at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival on September 25, 2009. In “A Recluse and His Guest” a Woman named Nevrika (Kate Skinner) ingratiates herself into the reclusive life of Ott (Ford Austin) an individual who claims “to live under circumstances,” and declares to his imposing guest that “a man is safe in his house, not on the street.” Despite his discomfort, Ott ultimately allows the Woman to stay and even offers her money to “buy a good trapler” at the market which prompts her response, “No, no! Don’t give me money. Look, I took no money! Dear, Ott, you must never let a woman touch money. She’ll take advantage of your— too trustful— nature.”
In “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde (Kate Skinner), Hall (Patrick Darwin Williams) serves as ringmaster of her torture chamber where the incapacitated Mint (Jade Ziane) is repeatedly raped by her Son (Declan Eells). During one of the Boy’s atrocities, Mint – knowing his fate – cries out, “Oh, no, no, no! Well, maybe, since you’ve come with—Lubricant is it?” The Boy replies, “Astringent.” In both of these challenging plays, Mr. Williams highlights the characters struggling against their positions as powerless, immobilized victims. Obviously this is not a struggle confined to the decade of the 1980s.
Much has been made to distinguish Tennessee Williams’ earlier works (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Glass Menagerie,” etc.) from those penned just before his death in 1982 including the pair in this production. However, to make this distinction is flawed and disregards many of Mr. Williams’ early works like “Desire and the Black Masseur” written in 1948 – works that are as grotesque and troublesome as this pair in “Tennessee Williams 1982.”
Under Cosmin Chivu’s serviceable but inconsistent direction, the ensemble cast of “Tennessee Williams 1982” tackles the pair of late and rare plays with a respectable zeal. The performances are unfortunately not as even as one would expect or desire. While most of the cast deliver authentic and honest performances, some appear not to be as connected to their characters and their engaging conflicts. In “A Recluse and his Guest,” the Recluse Ott (Ford Austin) appears unable to effectively spar with The Woman Nevrika (Kate Skinner). And in “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde,” Hall (Patrick Darwin Williams) engages better with Mme. Le Monde (Kate Skinner) on the grainy monitors than he does when she is present on stage.
Justin West’s scenic design is appropriately remote and morose and John Eckert’s lighting design exacerbates the matrix of sadness, danger, and despair extant on the stage. Angela Wendt’s costumes are spot on and are indeed characters in and of themselves.
It is always good to see Tennessee Williams on the New York Stage and The Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company is to be commended for bringing this pair of rare plays by the iconic playwright who never fails to challenge audiences to examine reality from a different and often chilling point of view. And whether we attempt a correction after we see these two plays remains our choice and our legacy.