Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Eight by Tenn" - 8 Fascinating Short Plays By Tennessee Williams

Most theater goers are very familiar with the often performed major works of Tennessee Williams: "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," A Streetcar Named Desire, "The Glass Menagerie," The Night of the Iguana," et al. What many people do not know was that he was also a prolific writer of short plays, and he considered some of these among his best work.  He described them as "firecrackers on a rope"! Zeitgeist Director David Miller has strung together eight of these little gems, and they sparkle and crackle in an entertaining evening of theater.

If one were to think of Williams' major plays as stained glass windows, then these eight little gems are shards of glass that could have been fitted into any of Williams' larger works. His diction, colors, distinct Southern mannerisms and speech patterns, the languid heat, the smoke, the lingering southern Gothic madness, the repressed sexuality, the aftershocks of the Confederacy, the down-at-the-heels gentility are all present in small doses in these little plays. There are many hints of the traits that would come to full flower in Blanche DuBois.

Alexandra Smith and Zach Winston
in “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion”
Zeitgeist Stage Company’s EIGHT BY TENN
Plaza Theatre at the BCA

Through October 8th
Photo by Richard Hall/Silverline Images
Eight actors portray a variety of roles in these plays. We begin with the two youngest members of the cast, Rae Bell and Jake Orozco-Herman in a work entitled "This Property Is Condemned." Willie is a tomboy walking the rails in a desultory manner when she meets Tom.  The young man questions her, and learns that she is living alone in a condemned house, her mother and father having abandoned her, and her older sister having recently died of consumption. Her precarious perch walking on the rail seems to be a metaphor for the weak grip that she has on life, apparently condemned to follow in the footsteps of her late sister, who subsisted by keeping company with the railroad men who were denizens of the family's boarding house.

In "The Lady of Larkspur Lotion," we are introduced to the remarkable work of actress Alexandra Smith.  Her acting in four of these plays in clearly the highlight of the evening. She is resplendent in ruby red outfit designed by Costume Designer Matthew Solomon. In this play, she is Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore, trying desperately to pay the rent by receiving gentlemen callers who pay her for her time.

In "Auto-Da-Fe" we are introduced to Michelle Dowd as Mrs. Duvenet and Damon Singletary as Eloi. This sexually repressed young man is kept under the thumb of a rigidly moralistic mother. He ends up burning down their home.

"A Perfect Analysis Given By a Parrot" features Alexandra Smith as Bessie and Kelley Estes as Flora.  These two women are in town for a convention. They are out on the prowl and looking for some action. Their repartee as a wonderful example of Tennessee Williams' ability to create dialogue in which characters slice one another apart with words.  Bessie find many ways to remind Flora of how bad her complexion has always been, and Flora turns the tables by mentioning the flesh that Bessie has added to her carcass.

"Something Unspoken" is quintessential Williams depicting repressed sexuality. Miss Cornelia Scott (Karin Trachtenberg) has hired Miss Grace Lancaster (Kelley Estes) fifteen years ago to serve as her live-in secretary. While Cornelia wages war on the phone with the Daughters of the Confederacy, she carries on a verbal battle with Grace over whether they should discuss what is "unspoken between them." They come close to holding hands at one point, then shrink from the acknowledgment of their unspoken secret.

In "The Unsatisfactory Supper," Michelle Dowd is Aunt Rose, the last member of her generation who has outlived her usefulness.  Her niece, Baby Doll (Rae Bell) and nephew, Archie Lee (Zach Winston) reach the end of their rope when Aunt Rose forgets to light the woodstove and serves an "unsatisfactory supper," including undercooked greens.  The look on Rose's face when she learns she is to be thrown out and sent to live with another unwilling relative is a highlight of the evening, capped off by a single tear that hangs upon her cheek.  Rose walks off - stage right, apparently to be taken up to heaven by the approaching twister.

"The One Exception" is classic Williams delighting in Gothic Southern madness.  Kyra (Karin Trachtenberg) has apparently gone mad, and her old friend, Viola (Alexandra Smith) has been invited in to extract some history from her before Kyra is sent off to an insane asylum. May (Kelley Estes) has been a temporary companion and guardian for Kyra during the waiting period. The tables are turned when Kyra and Viola have a one-on-one encounter and Viola attacks her and begs her for money.

The highlight of the evening is the final piece, "Portrait of a Madonna." This is the play in which Alexandra Smith, portraying Miss Lucretia Collins truly shines. This superannuated woman is living in the attic of a hotel, is out of funds and out of her mind.  She imagines that a long ago beau who spurned her to marry another is now climbing through her bedroom window nightly to "indulge his senses." Despite her advanced age, so. deludes herself that she is pregnant with his child, and is concerned about preserving her spotless reputation as a minister's daughter and long-time Sunday School teacher in the Episcopal Church.  Ms. Smith has several long monologues that allow her to demonstrate the depth of Lucretia's madness and the desperation which which she clings to her fanciful imaginings: "Mother will bring in something cool after a while." She clings to her dignity like Miss Havisham's ragged wedding dress, even in the face of mockery by the Porter (Zach Winston).  It is a tour de force performance that is not to be missed.

Costumes Design by Matthew Solomon, Lighting Design by Erik Fox, Sound Design by Matthew Good.

There are many good reasons to see these eight delightful One Acts.  Playing at the BCA Plaza Theatre through October 8th.

Zeitgeist Stage Website



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