Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

Tennessee Williams with Fresh Page

New Company's 100 Year Portrait of an acclaimed American playwright

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Legendary playwright Tennessee Williams was born 100 years ago. New theatre company Fresh Page Productions debuts with a program of four shorts and a few journal entries written by the influential storyteller at the Carte Blanche Studio Theatre.

The program opens with a reading from Williams' journal by Carte Blanche Theatre regular Christopher Weis. The selection is a very intimate look at the man at a time in his life when things were NOT going well for him. He was suffering from pubic lice. His typewriter was in hock and he was flat broke. It's interesting to hear Tennessee Williams working out a meager budget in actual numbers. . . there's a real earthbound kind of terror there, which leads-in rather nicely to the first short of the night.

THE LADY OF LARKSPUR LOTION

Williams explores the nature of inner reality versus external reality in a fun little comic piece with plenty of depth. Laura Holterman plays a prostitute who prefers to think of herself as an heiress. David Bohn plays an alcoholic who prefers to think of himself as an author. Elizabeth Tamehill plays the landlady who has to put up with them. It's a clever juxtaposition--exterior reality fails to live up to the deeper, more truthful reality of, “fantasy.”  All of the characters involved are everyday actors of some sort. Directed by Fresh Page co-founders Kyle Queenan and Joshua Devitt, the reality that the characters are living feels a bit more intense than the reality they were in conflict with. Reality vs. “fantasy” in the short is a harrowingly difficult balance to achieve. Fresh Page narrowly misses that balance here. A very fun short, though.

 

IN OUR PROFESSION

This world premiere Tennessee Williams short was directed by Joshua Devitt, This is likely as close to sketch comedy as Williams ever got. Allie Beckman is brilliantly over the top an actress in a touring stage play who falls deeply in love with men in less time than it takes to boil an egg. Beckman's intensely comic melodrama plays off against a couple of guys--one of whom has been forced to deal with her for a couple of days (Rick Fresca) one of whom only just met her. (Paul Matthew Madden.)

Beyond being a lot of fun, there's a vaguely tragic emotionality to the comedy that is pure Tennesee Williams. The emotional reality of actors and other artists creates the need for greater emotional intensity in daily life . . . . it's the kind of desperate search for “true,” human contact that ultimately drives so much human interaction. The darkness isn't terribly obvious in this piece, but there's enough of it here to act as a nice lead-in to the drama of the rest of the show.

 

HONOR THE LIVING

This short dramatic piece is also a world premiere. Jason Waszak plays a veteran back from the war who is unable to adapt to life after the front lines. It occurs to me that this short might have had more of an impact when it was first written--an era before Viet Nam when the horrors of war have become endlessly mined for dramatic value--it's awful that this type of story has become cliché and absolutely atrocious that this type of story is still going on to this day. 

The One-act goes through three scenes very, very quickly with very little build-up. And while there's no question that Waszak is a talented actor, the script looks to have this character spectacularly fall apart emotionally without any substantial breathing room around his emotional collapse. The script makes it almost impossible to do this in an emotionally kinetic way and make it look believable. If he HAD been able to go from 0 to 300 mph in 2.5 seconds, emotionally speaking, the achingly brief time the play is onstage would've made it very difficult for an audience to become very engaged in the drama. As written, it’s a very, very tricky script. Waszak’s performance would have benefited greatly from more of a sort of listless emotional fatigue...a numbness mixed with restlessness that never quite explodes. That kind of restless fatigue seems to fit a veteran of the front lines much more than the manic aggression that Waszak so nearly achieves here.


27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON

The final short of the program is introduced by Weiss reading from Williams' journals in his best performance on the program. We hear the short story that inspired the final short--a drama that is staggeringly intricate in its simplicity. Nicholas Callan Haubner plays a man who is abusive to his wife played by Marcee Dohery. Joshua Devitt plays a man who falls into a business arrangement with them. There isn't a character in the drama who isn't being exploited in some way. This is the ugly side of capitalism. The script is a brilliantly-rendered microcosm of tragedy that is handled in starkly static, occasionally subtle  brutality by Fresh Page in a very, very promising debut.

 

Fresh Page Productions' One Hundred Year Portrait of Tennessee Williams runs through September 11th at the Carte Blanche Studio Theatre. For advance tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets.

 

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