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A CurtainUp Review
Masks Outrageous and Austere

If this were theater, I would think it a metaphor on the idiocy of existence..—Clarissa “Babe” Foxworth
In Masks Outrageous and Austere
Shirley Knight
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Tennessee Williams’ final, unfinished, play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere, is not his crowning achievement. Williams himself was unsatisfied with it, even after having agonized over it for four drug-soaked years leading to his death in 1983. While there has been renewed scholarly interest in latter-period Williams, I fear that this mess of a play could retard that progress by decades.

Borrowing from The Matrix, director David Schweizer foregrounds the bogeymen of Williams’ play, the Gideons: futuristic, corporate, gay G-Men (don’t ask). Dressed in pleather suits they pace the perimeter of the set, scrutinize all who enter, and focus their security cameras on audience members deemed to require further scrutiny. On the night I attended, the production began 15 minutes late, so the Gideons had plenty of time to do their thing; by the time the play began, their nefarious vibe had worn off and audience members were waving at the cameras as if they had been captured on the Jumbotron at a Mets game.

James Noone’s set is a marvel to behold. Culture Project has certainly pulled out all the stops on this one. The walls are covered in tens of grainy television screens, surveillance stations resembling DJ booths are placed strategically around the theater, and noises can be deafening. Unfortunately, as mightily as Mr. Schweizer dresses up the production, he just can’t fix this incoherent and neurotic work.

In a nutshell, the kitchen-sink play concerns a rich doyenne, Clarissa “Babe” Foxworth (Shirley Knight), a probable alcoholic who is kidnapped to a beach resort in an undisclosed country by corporate forces aligned with her ex-husband. With her are her young husband, Billy (Robert Beitzel) and his even younger, gay secretary and lover, Jerry (Sam Underwood). Also, along for the ride is a randy domestic servant (Pamela Shaw) and her crass lover, Joey (Christopher Halladay). The group’s movements are monitored by the Gideons. There are also sub-plots about child molestation and the eradication of tent worms on the beach, the latter inspired by an earlier Williams’ short story.

The play appears to be the transcription of a drug-fueled nightmare of paranoia. All of Williams’ major themes are here, as is the archetype of the domineering matronly doyenne in the character of “Babe.” Ms. Knight is a trooper but she suffocates under the weight of the play’s incoherence and ridiculousness. What In Masks Outrageous and Austere finally says is anyone’s guess. You will likely not care by the second act.
In Masks Outrageous and Austere
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by David Schweizer
Cast: Ward Horton (Gideon #1), Scot Charles Anderson (Gideon # 2), Kaolin Bass (Gideon # 3), Robert Beitzel (Billy Foxworth), Sam Underwood (Jerry), Pamela Shaw (Peg Foyle), Christopher Halladay (Joey), Shirley Knight (Clarissa “Babe” Foxworth), Alison Fraser (Mrs. Gorse-Bracken), Connor Buckley (Playboy), Jermain Miles (Mac), Jonathan Kim (Interpreter), Kennelsworth (Buck Henry), Dr. Lester G. Syme (Austin Pendleton)
Scenic Design: James Noone
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols
Original Music and Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreiber
Dramaturg: Joe E. Jeffreys
Wigs and Make-up Design: Cookie Jordan
Video and Production Design: Darrell Maloney
Production Supervisor: Production Core
Casting: Billy Hopkins
Company Manager: Katrina Elliott
Production Stage Manager: Scott Pegg
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes, including one intermission
Culture Project , 45 Bleecker Street, NYC,
From April 6, 2012 – May 26, 2012; opening April 16, 2012
Performance schedule : Tuesday - Friday at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m
Reviewed by William Coyle, based on the April 21, 2012 performance

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