Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Five by Tenn"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey


SpeakEasy Triumphs with
"Five by Tenn"

By Beverly Creasey

There is heaven on earth and it’s in the theater. Who could have known that someone would find thirteen plays by Tennessee Williams which no one knew existed. To theater lovers, this is tantamount to the discovery of a previously unknown Mozart symphony—which also happened not long ago. Art, you see, can thrill ---and surprise---like nothing else.

Director Scott Edmiston chose five of these plays, which SpeakEasy Stage calls FIVE BY TENN, then got permission from Williams’ estate for SpeakEasy to add a scene from Vieux Carré which weaves them all together lyrically and emotionally --- a brilliant stroke because the evening unfolds like a symphony, with each scene/movement adding weight to the whole, propelling the work into a shimmering finale.

You will find characters in these short plays who seem eminently familiar, characters like Nightingale from Vieux Carre who, like Nonno and his daughter in Night of the Iguana, depends on tourists to ply his art. Every scene in Edmiston’s compellation unfolds gorgeously, but the confessional scene from Vieux Carre will take your breath away for its fierce expression of humanity and the urgent need we all share to connect with another human being. Will McGarrahan has never been better and Eric Rubbe, as Williams’ alter ego, adds delicacy and longing to their lovely, lonely duet.

A ferocious mother makes an appearance in Summer at the Lake, a cousin to the matriarchs we know from The Glass Menagerie or Suddenly Last Summer. Anne Scurria doesn’t let an ounce of compassion into this portrayal. It’s easy to see why Rubbe’s smothered, melancholy son will do anything to escape. In these carefully chosen pieces, Williams seems to be crying out for the “touches of humanity God forgot” ---in a way he couldn’t, or didn’t, in his more successful work. Now Edmiston gives him a way to speak his case. Certainly his Stories of the Death of Queens is a more daring work, with Allyn Burrows giving a tour de force performance in the regal role. Christopher Brophy, too, gives a riveting performance as the unsuitable object of her affections.

William Young as the elderly writer (in two of the playlets) gives a stunning portrayal of the world weary playwright. Looking a bit like Virgil Thomson and sounding like Reynolds Price, Young gives life to Williams’ hopeful belief in the future: “[Someday] when people will look for poetry again [instead of gunpowder] there will be a time for kind, gentle voices.” Thanks to Edmiston and SpeakEasy, Williams is teaching us again about the redemptive value of art.

"Five By Tenn: Five One-Act Plays by Tennessee Williams" (27 January - 25 February)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

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