For Tennessee Williams, confinement was the most dreadful of all circumstances. Think of Blanche DuBois, bereft of Belle Reve and trapped in the Kowalskis' apartment, or Tom Wingfield, suffocating at home and longing to run free. For them, captivity is the hottest of all hells, and escape is the only salvation. By presenting four short plays by Williams, the American Globe Theatre highlighted the author's claustrophobia, and underscored the beautiful despair inherent in almost all his works.
The first of the plays, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, is the story of Flora, a Mississippi farm wife ensnared in an abusive marriage. Her situation becomes even more horrific when a visitor arrives with cruel intentions. As Jake, Justin Ray Thompson was a respectable actor, although more than 20 years younger and 75 pounds lighter than the "fat man of sixty" the author describes in the play's notes. As Silva, Richard Fay was sinister where a smooth, conniving disposition would have been more chilling. Yet despite director Vincent Masterpaul's puzzling choices, the play succeeded because of Megan Garcia. Her Flora hid a look of fear beneath a veil of Southern manners, and shifted from playfulness to misery with unnerving ease.
Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen... is a play as lyrical as its title. Two lovers sit in a small room, and when prompted by Man, Woman delivers a monologue about her dream of escaping her life by registering "under a made-up name at a little hotel on the coast" where she'll live alone for 50 years and walk "on the esplanade with the strong wind beating...the white clean wind that blows from the edge of the world, from even further than that." Charles Tucker and Liz Belonzi did indeed talk like sweet rain in this 15-minute piece, and the let the audience listen to the desperate but lovely rhythm. (Directed by Lisa Jackson.)
The Dark Room is the story of an immigrant woman restricted by her own ignorance, caring for a dejected daughter who secludes herself inside a shadowy bedroom. Both Julia McLaughlin as the mother and Erin Schmahl as a visiting social worker performed well, despite being saddled with some of the weaker prose Williams wrote. (Directed by Lisa Jackson.)
The Case of the Crushed Petunias ended the program with a joyful absurdity. Dorothy Simple is shaken from her dull existence and stifling job by an enthusiastic stranger who convinces her to take a chance on life. Although the theme is hardly original, Stacie Renna and Matt Walton brought freshness to their roles and ended the evening with a contagious energy. (Also featuring Charles Tucker. Directed by Kelley McKinnon.)
By presenting Four By Tennessee, the American Globe again showed itself to be a first-class theatre company. These seldom-produced plays aren't perfect, but to see them is a rare treat and a chance to further explore the sad yet beautiful work of an American master.
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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski