May 14, 2012

Tennessee Williams' Final Play IN MASKS OUTRAGEOUS & AUSTERE

This weekend, I had a chance to see the first production of Tennessee Williams' last play over at the Culture Project on Bleecker Street.  Williams spent the final four years of his life writing and rewriting (never to his complete satisfaction) this show about a Southern grand dame being held hostage at a mysterious beachfront home, popping pills and drinking Champagne with her gay husband and his young lover.

If the setup sounds somewhat familiar, it is a bit like Tennessee's greatest hits.  However, there was something strikingly modern about the language and the frank discussion of the sexuality of her husband. No hidden secrets and unspoken lies here....Williams lays it all out, going so far as to have the husband and his consort show their affection for each other right in front of Babe.  Written between 1979 and 1983, there is a blithe tone to the play's treatment of homosexuality and sexuality in general.  There is even a little Williams diatribe against "computers" which is surprisingly prescient. 

The show itself was beautifully produced with a surreal and somewhat hi-tech setting.  However, it ran a bit too long and could use some more strong editing.  This could be a very tight 1 1/2 hour show as opposed to a nearly 2 1/2 hour one. Shirley Knight (who was actually in a Tennessee Williams' movie, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH) did a remarkable job playing Babe but the rest of the cast was a bit uneven.  Yet, overall, it seems like there is a lot of potential in this swan-song of a play.

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