Thursday, September 10, 2015

Desire **/***

The Acting Company commissioned six playwrights to write short plays based on stories by Tennessee Williams which are now playing at 59E59 Theater. The results are decidedly mixed. 

In “The Resemblance between a Violin Case and a Coffin,” ** adapted by Beth Henley, Roe (Juliet Brett) is a pre-teen with an alleged talent for the piano who is preparing for a recital. Tom (Mickey Theis), her friendly younger brother, resents that her practice time has cut into their playtime together. The decision by the piano teacher Miss Alley (Kristen Adele) to include a Chopin sonata for violin and piano with Roe and Richard Miles (Brian Cross), a hunky new student, does not turn out well. Roe’s onset of puberty brings uncontrollable urges and a negative effect on her music. Megan Bartle and Liv Rooth have small roles as Roe’s mother and grandmother, respectively. The staging tried to hard to pump up the slight material.
 Juliet Brett and Brian Cross. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In “Tent Worms” ** by Elizabeth Egloff, Billy (Derek Smith) is a middle-aged blocked writer vacationing on Cape Cod with his boozy wife Clara (Rooth). He is obsessed with the eponymous pests that have infested their property. We learn from a phone call between Clara and Billy’s doctor that he is suffering from a serious illness that has taken a turn for the worse. Billy resorts to extreme measures to get rid of the pests. It did not cohere for me.

Liv Rooth and Derek Smith. Photo by Carol Rosegg

“You Lied to Me about Centralia” *** is John Guare’s clever riff on “Portrait of a Girl in Glass,” the story on which Williams based “The Glass Menagerie.” In it, we learn what happened to Jim O’Connor (Theis), the gentleman caller, after his dinner at the Wingfields’. When we meet Jim and his fiancee Betty (Bartle) on a bench at Union Station in St. Louis, we learn that she has lied about a trip. She did not go to Centralia. Instead she made an abortive trip to get money from her estranged Uncle Clyde. She recounts the details of her visit, during which she was puzzled by the absence of Mrs. Lovejoy, Clyde’s alleged fiancee, and the presence of Rainbow, a black man who was clearly not his servant. Jim, in turn, tells Betty about his experience of dinner with the Wingfields. It’s a clever conceit well written and performed.
Mickey Theis and Megan Bartle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In “Desire Quenched by Touch,” *** Marcus Gardley’s adaptation of “Desire and the Black Masseur,” we meet Grand (Yoegel T. Welch), a cellist turned bath house masseur, and Bacon (Smith), a crusty detective who is interrogating Grand over the disappearance of his best client, a gay masochist named Burns (John Skelley), who has been missing for two weeks. We see some of the encounters between masseur and client during which the violence gradually escalates. After the interview, Grand returns home and we get a truly macabre ending. Painful to watch, but hard to forget.

Yaegel T. Welch (top) and John Skelley. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In “Oriflamme” ** by David Grimm. Anna (Rooth) is an attractive woman in a blood-red evening dress who strikes up a conversation with Rodney (Smith), a slightly rough-edged man reading his racing form on a park bench. She waxes poetic about cloud formations and complains about the banality of people like the shopgirl who was upset she wanted to wear her new gown in broad daylight. Anna definitely has a touch of Blanche in her. Rodney plies her with alcohol and makes a clumsy move on her. Slight and forgettable.

With its cellphones and sorority girls, it is somewhat hard to imagine that the source of Rebecca Gilman’s “The Field of Blue Children” ** is a Williams story. Dylan (Skelley), a budding poet in a college composition class, is infatuated with Layley (Bartle), an attractive blonde sorority girl for whom his poetry stirs memories. Although going steady with frat boy Grant (Cross), she agrees to a date with Dylan. The date turns out far better for Dylan than he could have imagined, but he reads too much into it. Cee Cee (Brett) and Curry (Rooth) are cartoonish sorority sisters. Other small roles are played by Welch, Theis and Adele. It has entertaining moments but its spirit wanders far from Williams territory.
John Skelley and Megan Bartle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Jeff Cowie’s set design of weathered planks provides a neutral background for his projections. David C. Woolard’s costumes are fine. Michael Wilson’s direction is fluid. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including intermission.

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