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A CurtainUp Review
Set in 1922, Columbus, Missouri, the biographical aspects/insights in this play are evident as are the disarming performances by Juliet Brett as Roe and Mickey Theis as Tom, the young Tennessee Williams. Brian Cross is also impressive as the handsome young violin player who catches Tom's eye. Notably enhanced with whimsical choreography by Peter Pucci, this is the first, and my personal favorite of these six short stories by Williams. All deal in varying degrees with desire, the death of the soul, and escape from reality. They have been given mainly fine, often better than that, dramatic shape and form by six different playwrights, all under the direction of Michael Wilson. I'd like to give highest honors to Southern born Pulitzer-Prize winner Henley (Crimes of the Heart) whose adaptation literally shimmers in Williams' light.
Are they all equally well-written? No, but why would that be a surprise? Are they all intentionally intoxicating? Yes, but that is what we expect.
Though it takes presumption and even a touch of audacity to play-act with this sampling of the fifty or so short stories that Williams wrote before he ventured into playwriting, this collection has been rhapsodically and on occasion rambunctiously staged by Wilson, an acknowledged Williams interpreter. The one acters have been produced by The Acting Company with skill, imagination and a genuine respect for the source. Each play takes varying advantage of set designer Jeff Cowie's abstracted wooden installation and his illusory projections.
Purists (oh dear that crowd) may take umbrage with the liberties taken, particularly when characters use cell phones and reference Utube as in Elizabeth Egloff's adaptation of "Tent Worms." In this, the weirdest of the collection, a drug-addicted blocked author (a terrifically agitated Derek Smith) wields an electric blower. He's obsessed and motivated to extremes (call the fire department) by what he perceives as an invasion of the hanging worms at the Cape Cod retreat where he is under the care of his wife (Liv Rooth.)
Most entertaining is Rebecca Gilman's adaption of "The Field of Blue Children" written in 1939 and re-set in the present at the University of Alabama. Gilman and Wilson must have had fun incorporating hip speak and trendy body language that define and characterize the students of today in a poetry class and in their dorms. This updating is winningly entwined with the sexual inclinations of an introspective young undergraduate (John Skelley) and the object of his (hilariously indulged) desire (Megan Bartle). Bravo to costume designer David C. Woolard for the display of college chic.
Inevitably there are sweet reflections of and references to future plays and the characters. It requires no more than a passing awareness of The Glass Menagerie to see how aspects of it inform John Guare's adaption of "Portrait of a Girl in Glass" (1948) that is now titled "You Lied To Me About Centralia." Listening to this is a quirky, revelatory discourse between a man (Mickey Theis) and his intended (Megan Bartle) as they sit in a train depot in 1937, it's quickly apparent that we are hearing the back-story of Menagerie's gentleman caller in response to his fiancee explaining why she lied. Though Guare has penned more laudable plays , this is the only one of the plays that comes off a bit flat.
One other play that does not completely cast its intended spell is David Grimm's two-character "Oriflamme"(1974) in which Anna (Liv Rooth), a sickly but still shapely woman who has seen better days and nights is looking for love in a city park, but only finds an insensitive brute (Derek Smith). You won't have to strain your eyes and ears to feel the déjà vu to recognize the ghostly markings of Blanche, Alma or almost all of the fallen Williams women who have never been able to accept reality.
"desire quenched by touch" adapted by Marcus Gardley from "Desire and the Black Masseur" (1948) is the darkest and most disturbing of the lot. Its horrific aspects involve a frail, young man's (John Skelley) need for physical pain and abuse and the black masseur (Yaegel T. Welch) who gives him what he wants...that is up to the point where a criminal investigator (Derek Smith) is assigned to look into the young man's disappearance. You won't be far afield if you see glimmers of the unnatural desires that Williams expanded upon in Suddenly Last Summer.
Though this collection will be most fulfilling for Williams devotees it will also entertain those wishing to consider the place for desire in their lives.