5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams Given New Life at the Goddard in Manhattan - The Jewish Voice
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5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams Given New Life at the Goddard in Manhattan

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By: Marion DS Dreyfus

Tennessee Williams  (1911-1983), one of our three greatest American playwrights—with Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill— along with treasured gems of the proscenium like the scintillant Glass Menagerie, Sweet Bird of Youth and Streetcar Named Desire, scripted some wilting-orchid one-acters as well as his perennial cherished long-run faves.

Williams wrote short stories, a volume of poetry, essays, and a memoir additionally, but among the acclaimed long-run favorites were a number of short one-acts, always involving his environmental matrix, the mangrovy, antimacassar South of his notably unhappy, notably dysfunctional, youth.

It has been the declaratively acclaimed reception of his major works that has, probably, obscured his lesser efforts—those shorter theatre pieces that have always been, for logistical and funding reasons, hard to mount in a theatrical surround more about funding, alas, than drama.

Directors who have chosen to cast and mount the petite—flawed, if lapidary– one-acters of the great ‘effeminate’ playwright–per Tennessee’s father’s description–accordingly, have bitten off a mighty chew of challenge. We must admire their doughty spirit, at the very least.

One venue is showing five of these, entitled “Five by Tennessee,” featuring all the fragile, gristy characters we’ve come to expect from our Southern [Dis]Comfort chronicler, at the Goddard Riverside Center, at Columbus Ave and 91st Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The theatrical productions are presented by Out of the Box Theatre Company.

The cumulative cast of 14, in an Actors’ Equity Approved Showcase, is directed by Ward Nixon, has a roundelay of characters in a series of human interactions singling out loneliness and defeat, on some levels at least, taking place in a rooming house. The pictures on the wall change, the furnishings inch this way or that, with each change. But the telltale sadness, sparked with hopeful moments, etched into dusty lives that often reluctantly mingle, or attempt to stay above the fray of their reduced circumstances, mirror–to a large extent–the women in Williams’ life, his alcoholic, loud, abusive shoe-salesman father, and his desperate but locked-in mother. Touched by the ancillary softened human beings fitting themselves into their low-rent givens.

Though the feel of these epigrammatic playlets is often evocative of the lonely figures seen repeatedly in the portraits of socialites and people-about-town depicted in Norman Sunshine’s soulful canvasses, hints of redemption are offered in and among the sour detritus of many of these lives.

One particular hint is the cat mewing frequently through the first play, Hello From Bertha and referred to in the second, The Last of My Solid Gold Watches. The cat’s name, invoked throughout at least two of the plays, is Nichevo, Russian for “Don’t worry: All will eventually be well.” This cat has been left, unattended but still mewing, by a previous resident of the rooming house.  Nichevo is the commonest phrase in that troubled land, Russia. The loss of the cat in the second of the plays may of course prefigure the loss of the optimistic message in his name. But maybe not. Not everyone has the capacity to recognize the ‘message’ of his moniker of hope.

The Goddard has been offering their theatrical presentations since early in the 2000-aughts. With increased funding or sponsorship, the directors could make greater inroads into immaculate casting, set and scenic design, even tech wizardry to enhance the experience when or as needed.

The five plays: Hello from Bertha, The Last of My Solid Gold Watches, The Lady of Larkspur lotion, Talk to Me Like the Rain And let Me listen, and The Strangest Kind of Roma

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