Tennessee Williams, who was close to forty when The Rose Tattoo opened on Broadway in February 1951, had already enjoyed major success with three plays, and had won a Pulitzer, the first of two, for A Streetcar Named Desire. The Rose Tattoo earned him his first Tony. It rather swept them up, as the scenic designer, Boris Aronson, and the two lead actors, Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach, also won Tonys. This was a big moment for all of them—certainly a milestone in Williams’ career. Yet, when the director of the current production, Trip Cullman, says, in an interview published in the program, that The Rose Tattoo “doesn’t occupy the same place in the canon as The Glass Menagerie, or A Streetcar Named Desire, or even Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” we can accept it readily enough. Cullman envisioned his task as revealing its greatness. Indeed, the play hasn’t been revived very often. All the more credit to Mr. Cullman and to Mandy Greenfield, the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Artistic Director, for taking on the challenge and for realizing its greatness with such brilliance—an extremely difficult task, I’d say, first because of Williams’ mercurial, almost indecisive shifting from pathos to comedy and back again, and secondly because of the problems involved in depicting Italian-American characters and life not only on stage, but in fiction and in film.
Is Shakespeare loquacious? Reading the last pages of Richard III one might think so. King Richard speaks his way into oblivion.
He seems to be made of words—his actions secondary, the description being all. This, after all, is a character who succeeds in wooing a widow over the coffin of a close relative, and after the deed, tells us about it as if we didn’t get it the first time. His comeuppance arrives eventually, and true to form, he is ready with a virtuoso description of the situation. He is always and everywhere a soliloquist. Richard’s words are a virtuosity. Hamlet’s words are long-considered, pondered. Richard finds his demise at least as theatrical as his life, and when the end comes, Marlovian rant rules. Needless to say, this requires spectacular acting.
British playwright Mike Bartlett’s fast-paced short play, An Intervention, closes with a black slapstick routine worthy of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. In the final scene, Character A, as she/he is called, brings out a ladder. Since we know A to be a troubled alcoholic, the conclusion we are meant to draw is obvious. A mounts the ladder experimentally, then retreats. Character B arrives. A scene ensues. A, fortified by tequila chugged straight from the bottle, mounts the ladder again. Lights flash in our faces, and a noose appears from nowhere. A puts it round her/his neck. B, remorseful, tries to stop his friend. The ladder topples and B is left holding A by the legs—a balancing act standing between A and death. The play closes as B sets his far-fetched and not-very-promising solution, A realizes that there will be no solution to his drinking problem, and the two reaffirm their mutual love, which has been so severely bruised over the past 45 minutes.
Like other arts institutions in the Berkshires the Williamstown Theatre Festival has had its share of ups and downs with what has been looking increasingly like a revolving door for artistic directors. The late Roger Rees, who created some especially intriguing programming, only lasted three years, Nicholas Martin, beset by illness, only two, and Jenny Gersten three. Most recently the programming seemed to be losing its luster. I for one began to find it harder and harder to find productions I was interested in seeing, much less writing about. The arrival this season of yet another new Artistic Director, Mandy Greenfield, came as a signal to start coming back. Ms. Greenfield arrives in Williamstown with a distinguished record as Artistic Producer at the Manhattan Theater Club, where her productions have been seen as favorable to rising playwrights and exciting in themselves.
Before there was texting, emails, voicemails, and answering machines, there were telephone answering services. An extension of a telephone number was connected to a switchboard in an office where it was answered by an operator. Of course, whoever took the messages learned maybe a little too much about the customers lives, loves and foibles.
s the years pass I find more and more to admire in Shakespeare and Company. At the moment, I’m thinking of the company’s vitality in carrying on with a full season and most if not all of its rich variety of educational programs intact after one more of the several financial and administrative crises that have struck in recent years. Company old-timers Jonathan Croy (twenty-ninth season) and Ariel Bock, who arrived as an acting apprentice in 1979, have taken over the artistic management on an interim basis, and another, Stephen G. Ball (twenty-seventh season), is now Interim Managing Director and General Manager. Much of this upheaval has been shrouded in mystery, but nothing could inspire one simply to let all this go and look to the future than the Shakespearean season opener, an invigorating, insightful, and moving “pocket” production of the most famous and beloved of the history plays, Henry V.
For me, Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth is as much about Falstaff as it is about Henry. Why the author’s abrupt bellicose turn to begin with? I think the playwright was afraid of Falstaff. He had already devoured two plays, Henry IV parts 1 and 2. Something had to be done.
Man of La Mancha is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Since its premiere at a Greenwich Village theatre in 1965, when it won a Tony for Best Musical, it has had four Broadway revivals and numerous productions all over the world. Its endurance is based on its gorgeous score and its 400 year-old classic story of the dreamer, Don Quixote, who imagines only good and gallantry in a dark, ugly world.