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A CurtainUp Review
The Rose Tattoo

Midway through Tennessee Williams' comedy The Rose Tattoo, Serafina delle Rose, the hot-blooded Sicilian seamstress forces a young sailor to kneel down before a statue of the Blessed Virgin and "swear to respect" her 15-year-old daughter.

It's a shame that no one demanded that same level of respect for the play itself from Director Kate Whoriskey and set designer Derek McLane. In their vision for the Goodman Theatre production, they have created a symbolically charged fantasy played out beneath a huge, billowy fabric canopy, bathed in various shades of rose, red and pink, floating over a stage strewn with rose petals. The result is an over-the-top visual tour de force which, while sumptuous and pleasing to the eye, seriously distracts from the funny and poignant script and a truly brilliant performance by Alyssa Bresnahan as Serafina.

The Rose Tattoo, which had its 1950 world premiere in Chicago, is described by Williams as his "love-play to the world". It is motivated by his own passions for a Sicilian-American ex-sailor nicknamed "The Little Horse" (giving new meaning to the humorously named character Mangiacavallo).

The plot centers on Serafina delle Rose, a robust and sensual woman who loses her lust for living and loving upon the premature death of her husband, a banana truck driver with whom she claims to have made love every day of their marriage. For three years she continues to mourn. Clad only in a black slip, she wanders about her home and dressmaking shop, always keeping a watchful eye on the chastity of her beautiful fifteen year old daughter, and looking for some"sign" that it is permissible to get on with her life again. It finally comes in the appearance at her shop of a rather comical looking truck-driver, Alvaro Mangiacavallo, who, while having "the face of a clown," has a body resembling her late husband. Close enough! This meeting reawakens the widow's smoldering passions, especially since she recently learned that her departed husband, whose ashes fill the urn next to the Holy Virgin, had been unfaithful to her.

.A spirited and voluptuous Alyssa Bresnahan makes her Goodman debut as the at first reluctant, but then the more than willing, widow who dives into her plush, rose colored bed at the first sign of encouragement from suitor Alvaro, played broadly by John Ortiz. Bresnahan is a refreshingly skilled comic actress, blessed with impeccable timing, physical grace and a unique ability to make herself clearly understood while employing a thick Sicilian accent.

Whoriskey gives her actors some comic grace notes. These work with uneven success. The usually delightful Lisa Dodson, Susan Hart and Greg Vinkler, cast respectively as the "loose women" Bessie and Flora and Father De Leo, fall victim to leaden and ill-timed pratfalls. Most unfortunate are Mike Nussbaum's portrayal of The Strega, looking like he wandered in off the set of a Samuel Beckett play, and the similarly puzzling "Afternoon of the Faun" depiction of The Goat by dancer Sean Blake.

In the final analysis, the production struggles with a concept that pits the natural world, like the blooming of a rose, with inorganic elements such as saran-wrapped palm trees and an acrylic climbing wall. The end-product is a jumble of production elements that never come together as an organic whole, and eclipse some wonderful performances.

CurtainUp's Tennessee Williams Backgrounder with links to other Williams play reviews

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Cast: (in order of appearance) Felicia P. Fields (Assunta), Franco Campanella (Salvatore) Simone Pellar Durand (Vivi), Meredith Zinner (Rosa delle Rose), Catherine Smitko (Guiseppina), Eileen Niccolai (Peppina), Elizabeth Laidlaw (Violetta), Alyssa Bresnahan (Serafina delle Rose), Cynthia Von Orthal (Estelle Hohengarten), Sean Blake (The Goat), Mike Nussbaum (The Strega), Greg Vinkler (Father De Leo), Fred Zimmerman (The Doctor), Mary Beth Fisher (Miss Yorke) Susan Hart (Flora), Lisa Dodson (Bessie), Ian Brennan (Jack Hunter), Fred Zimmerman (The Salesman), John Ortiz (Alvaro Mangiacavallo)
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design:Brigit Rattenborg Wise
Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel
Original Music and Sound Design: Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen Choreography: Randy Duncan
Running time:2 1/2 hours, with one intermission
The Goodman Theatre,170 North Dearborn Street, Chicago 312.443-3800,
January 10-February 15; opening 1/20/03
Reviewed by Julian and Rhona Frazin based on 1/22/03performance
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