By Tennessee Williams; Directed by Matthew Lillard
Produced by Animus Theatre Company
Off Broadway, Short Play Revivals
Runs through 5.2.15
Theatre Row's Studio Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street
by Cindy Pierre on 5.2.15
Mary Thornton and Eric William Morris in Talk to Me Like The Rain in Tennessee Williams' Collected Shorts. Photo by Matthew Lillard.
BOTTOM LINE: Characters get emotionally naked while exhibiting endurance and strength in a well-conceived and compelling presentation of four smoldering Tennessee William short plays.
Southern playwright Tennessee Williams, one of the foremost playwrights in 20th century American drama, is no stranger to fire. Known for bringing the theatrical heat onstage, his characters are often clawing at their souls, eating their hearts out, and longing for the unattainable and the forbidden. The impetus is no different in Animus Theatre’s workshop production of Tennessee Williams’ Collected Shorts, a gripping presentation of four one-act plays directed by actor Matthew Lillard. With a running time of 90 minutes, the audience gets a tour of broken dreams and grown-up angst that’s sure to leave an impression not only of Tennessee’s vast body of work from the 40s and 50s, but of Lillard’s burgeoning talent as a director.
Ushering in Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry and serving as a cool adhesive between all shorts is Rusty Guns, a wickedly cool band that blends country, blue-grass, and rock and roll. Hailing from the south, they add the perfect smooth and grounded flavor to Tennessee’s Mississippi-bred stories, especially since the characters in these stories are anything but settled or calm.
Take for instance the dissatisfaction that Moony (Jeff Todesco) and Jane (Karen Sours), a married couple thrown together because of animal magnetism, feel in Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry. With the lyrics “when the Lord made me, he made a rambling man” echoing in our ears from just a few minutes before, the foreshadowing is perfect for this piece. Constantly at each other’s throats and lobbying insults and disrespect between them, Moony wants out of this quicksand life. And Jane is resigned to letting him go as long as he takes his crying baby with him. Therein lies the rub…and rub well it does. Feeling every bit of the frustration that is festering inside of him, the audience is right there with Moony, even if they might not agree with his choice.
Internal and external conflicts continue in The Pink Bedroom, a play about indiscretions taking place in a, well you guessed it, pink bedroom. Complaining about giving up everything and receiving very little, Woman (Haley Bond) makes a good argument for herself, even though she might not deserve any pity for being a mistress. While surveying scenic designer Scott Tedmon-Jones’ bubble-gum pink choices, we can’t help but think of the lost innocence and girlhood of Woman. Did Man steal it? Hardly, but Bond’s performance almost makes us feel sorry for Woman. Almost.
Shifting into down gear in sentiment and pacing is Talk to Me Like the Rain. Subdued with a premise that is not as immediately tangible as the other two, this play takes its time to tell us that sometimes, the merry-go round of addiction is just too much to bear. Again, there is a Woman (Mary Thornton) who tires of dealing with Man (Eric William Morris), but there’s just too much chemistry and enabling between them to compel her to leave. The sexiest of the four plays, Thornton and Morris sizzle together to the point where we don’t want them to part.
The final play that wraps all emotions up with an untidy bow is The Long Goodbye. With more characters than any of the others and offering a little more hope than its predecessors, the energy surges back up to tell a tale that seems to hit close to home for the playwright. With a family that provides plenty of material to be inspired by, writer Joe (Zachary Spicer) sets out to be creative while reminiscing about his past. Finally moving out of the apartment that he’s lived in his whole life, thoughts and visions of his cancer-riddled Mother (Rhonda Dodd) and unbuttoned sister Myra (Courtney Shaw) compete with reality. Yet, he is the only character in all four plays that leaves things and people behind to forge ahead towards a new beginning and new life.
A thought-provoking, nearly-flawless evening, Tennessee Williams’ Collected Shorts is sure to get either a rise in temperature out of you or a rise of awareness of your own unfulfilled yearnings. With honest acting that persists throughout each piece, you’d be hard-pressed to not take a look at your own life and wonder what could be better.
Although elements such as Amanda Clegg Lyon’s veil-like lighting design, Christine Yepsen’s period costumes, and scene changes are solid throughout, there are a few things that can be improved with the staging and directing. One instance is the placement of the bed in Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry. Even though it doesn’t take long to understand the situation and the characters, the audience could benefit from being able to see Todesco and Sours’ faces at the onset of the play. Having the bed face upstage makes the audience work for something that could have easily been a given. Another instance is how the characters are set in The Long Goodbye. Sitting motionless when their scenes are “at rest,” the actors look like sitting ducks when they’re not performing. Though practical given the stage and its entry points, the performance of this play can be enhanced by more surprises.
Whether an aficionado or new to his work, Tennessee Williams’ Collected Shorts is a good romp through his plays. Thankfully, with Matthew Lillard, a director with the “courage to be brilliant” per his own reflections on the production, we get a chance to see him, the cast, and the whole creative team come close.
(Tennessee Williams’ Collected Shorts plays at Theatre Row's Studio Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, through May 2, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8, and Saturdays at 3 and 8. Tickets are $19.25 and are available at www.theatrerow.org or by calling Telecharge at 212.239.6200.)