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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Darragh plays Tom, the narrator, son and playwright's stand-in, through whose eyes we see the other characters: sister Laura (Keira Keeley) and mother Amanda (Judith Ivey). Wwe can't help but pity Amanda — deserted by her husband, very little money, a daughter who is crippled and pathologically shy, a son whose literary tastes she doesn't understand and whose pitiful salary she claims as her own. But she's a monster, the great prototype in American theater. She'd be a monster whatever life she lived or however fate treated her.
This particular life in this dimly lighted memory play takes place in a tenement in St. Louis. Designed by Michael Yeargen, it's drab, illuminated only by the brightly lit picture of the father, who remains only as an object..
As the play opens, Amanda's at her wit's end about Laura's future. Laura, terrified of business school, plays hookey and spends her days in museums or inside the bird houses at the Zoo, just as Tom spends his nights at the movies. Discovered by Amanda, the mother's only recourse is a husband for Laura,— to coin a phrase from her far-off girlhood in Blue Mountain, a "a gentleman caller."
Where to find this paragon? Amanda turns to the only source she has for everything, son Tom. He invites Jim O'Connor (Ben McKenzie) to dinner, a high school classmate on the fast track at the warehouse.
Judith Ivey makes a portly Amanda, overbearing, managing her children, holding part-time jobs. She has a loud raucous laugh and pride. The laugh is jarring, unbecoming a Southern Belle. One wonders if the Belle was a story, as fanciful as the beaus in Blue Mountain.
As Laura, Keira Keeley's frail figure is crumpled in on itself, as though she were hiding. She gradually opens in her last scene with Jim and shows what the actress can do, especially with a playwright like Williams.
Ben McKenzie plays Jim, the high school hero, the man on the rise, with contagious confidence. Half the man Tom is, he believes sturdily in himself. It's a star-making part, witness Kirk Douglas in the film version.
Darragh is ironic, humorous, and restless, flinging his tall body around the stage. He finallyreaches the point of emancipation and stands up to Amanda now, fighting bitterly. When he leaves the house The lights go out leaving the concluding scenes to be played by candlelight. (No accident.)
This was Williams' first successful play and the beginning of a string of hits and misses, until he choked on a bottle top and died. He put so much of himself into his people and what he observed in others. This production helmed by Gordon Edelstein is certainly the best in a long string of revivals — which no doubt accounts for its wending its way from Hartford to New York and now Los Angeles, with its cast and design team intact. To read what Curtainup's editor-in-chief had to say about this and to see a picture of Ms. Ivey and Keira Keiley go here. For more about Tennessee Williams and links to all plays by him reviewed at Curtainup, see the Tennessee Williams Backgrounder