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A CurtainUp Review
The setting designed by Anka Lupes is impressive with the compact hotel lobby and bar sharing the stage with an elevated hotel room, both set within a skeletal but decorous frame lighted for the Christmas holidays. Gradually the habitués begin to congregate to drink, schmooze, and dance sensually to the live music. Their presence is distinct and significant as participating supporting characters throughout the play, mainly as carolers portending "A Miracle."
This extraordinary revival under the direction of Cosmin Chivu may be notable for being the first in thirty-eight years for this one-act that originally shared a double bill with The Gnadiges Fraulein under the umbrella title Slapstick Tragedywhen it opened on Broadway in 1966. For many, however, it is the buzz that has centered on the non-traditional casting of underground theater artists Penny Arcade and Mink Stole in the play's two key roles. Stole plays Trinket, a lonely woman with evidently lots of money and Arcade plays her former friend Celeste, a gregarious over-the-hill hooker. To get right to the point, they are both superb. They bring distinctively unique and self-consciously particularized authority to their characters that stand in glaring and glorious contrast to each other.
Stole, who is probably best known for her roles in many John Waters films as well as for her work with the late Charles Ludlam's Theatre of the Ridiculous, brings a poignant layer of desperation to Trinket's apparently futile quest to find someone to love in spite of the "mutilation, that we may assume was a mastectomy.
Arcade's talents as a writer, poet, and as a performance artist will have to take a back seat for the time being as she indelibly inhabits the role of the buxom and blowsy Celeste. Her performance may be the most unbridled exposure of unconquerable sexuality you're likely to have seen postured about a stage. What may be the funniest scene in the play involves her attempt to seduce two sailors at the same time, leaving no limb untwined. And in keeping with the text, Arcade and Stole brilliantly break the fourth wall with their impassioned asides even as they break us up watching them bitch, bait, swig Tokay, share spiritual visions, and ultimately bond with each other in a lyrical manner that only Williams could conjure up.
I suspect that Chivu's direction of his leading ladies was to keep the faith with a largely misunderstood play unabashedly comprised with cliches. Williams described it best for a 1965 Esquire article as "kin to vaudeville, burlesque and slapstick with dash of pop art thrown in. . ."an allegory on the tragicomic subject of human existence on this risky planet."
Chivu, a New York-based, Roumanian-born theater artist and currently the Head of B.A. Acting/Directing Program at Pace University Performing Arts, has taken Williams at his word(s). What he has achieved is wondrous, especially with a play that was initially largely reviled by the critics. What you will see is a liberating form of musical theater, but one that also adheres reverentially to Williams's willfully lyrical vision of a pair of desperate and despairing survivors.
Without a doubt, the great plays of Tennessee Williams startled and excited audiences during the 1940s and 1950s. There are many, including myself, who also cherish the increasingly dense, incredibly daring that most likely emerged from his partly drug and alcohol-induced period in his life.
The Mutilated is an opportunity to see a play that many critics called "strangely unwholesome", "a graveside rite for a dying art" and saw as indicated Williams's death as an important playwright. Williams himself is quoted ironically saying "Death is my best theme," somewhat in defense of his inability or, indeed, desire, to write what the critics had come to expect.
This ferociously funny and fearlessly embraced production is, for the most part, irresistible and it is certainly a must for those who have maintained a genuine fondness and admiration for Williams through thick and thin. No need to compile a list of all the great ones that include the classics The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, but the arrival of The Mutilated is as gratifying as was the similarly stunning recent revival of his dramatically challenging and still confounding The Two-Character Play .
There are those who want and need philosophical evaluations and scholarly explanations of his "late plays." But the rest of us are free to simply enjoy the outrageousness and the out-crying of an aging playwright who appears to have simply moved into a different space, one where the bizarre, the painful and the pitiful exist, as they do in The Mutilated.
This production premiered in a site-adapted version at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in September 2013. For more Tennessee Williams see Curtainup's Williams Playwrights Albut Backgrounder .