Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Rose Tattoo"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE ROSE TATTOO"

by Tennessee Williams
directed by Nicholas Martin

Salvatore … Gabe Goodman
Vivi … Sophie Rich
Giuseppina … Cheryl McMahon
Peppina … Bobbi Steinbach
Violetta … Courtney Abbiati
Serafina delle Rose … Andrea Martin
Rosa delle Rose … Greta Storace
Assunta … Melinda Lopez
Estelle Hohengarten … Tina Benko
The Strega … Nancy E. Carroll
Father De Leo … Diego Arciniegas
The Doctor … Timothy Crowe
Teresa … Rachel Rusch
Miss Yorke … Dara Fisher
Bessie … Colleen Quinlan
Flora … Dara Fisher
Jack Hunter … Ryan Sypek
The Salesman … Timothy Crowe
Alvaro Mangiacavallo … Dominic Fumusa
A Man … Chris Frontiero

The one advantage that a theatre critic has over his public is he tends to see more productions than the average theatergoer; he would have fewer readers should they increase their attendance and broaden their own tastes instead of heeding a stranger’s word that this play and not that one will give them more bangs for their bucks. Everyone, I am sure, has been disappointed now and then after following a critic’s heartfelt recommendation or has enjoyed an entertainment and then been puzzled by his denouncement of it. Case in point: last November I attended a certain production in a certain Boston theatre. A work-acquaintance of mine was also in the audience, along with his wife and another couple. He and I had come to the same performance after putting in a full-day in the same company but there the similarities end: I see on average a dozen productions a month, professional or amateur, in town or out in the boonies --- theatergoing is not unlike gambling: you never know in advance which play, which production will catch fire. Last November, I racked up seventeen productions --- out of seventeen, only four of them lifted me out of myself and into the magic of theatre; again, it's a gamble. My acquaintance’s theatergoing consists of subscribing to two established theatres; the demands of his job often cause him to give away his tickets at the last moment --- thus, he and his wife attend the theatre, say, once a month. Not surprisingly, our reactions to the play we saw that evening differed: I was disappointed and ruled that only the playwright’s reputation justified its production. My acquaintance enjoyed it and couldn’t see what all my fuss was about; he ended up agreeing that the play didn’t amount to much but, on the other hand, it was a pleasure to have had a rare night out with his wife and friends, regardless of what he was seeing; had he written a review, it would have been a rave --- which, in turn, might cause a more seasoned theatergoer to doubt HIS judgment. And so it goes. Hopefully these comments will illuminate my lukewarm reaction to the Huntington Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ THE ROSE TATTOO: on the night I attended, the packed audience at the Huntington clearly enjoyed themselves and gave its star Andrea Martin a thundering ovation at curtain call whereas I felt that one of the prop roses had been tossed into my lap, scentless and thorn-free.

THE ROSE TATTOO is Mr. Williams’ happiest play, written when he himself was at his most fulfilled: he had already achieved fame; now he was blessed with a companion, Frank Merlo, and a second country, Italy (the play is dedicated to Mr. Merlo who introduced Mr. Williams to his homeland): Serafina delle Rose, living in a Sicilian-American community along the Gulf Coast, is passionately devoted to her husband, a man who sports a rose tattoo on his chest; when he dies in an accident she intends to remain faithful to his memory but is devastated by the revelation of his infidelities. Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a younger, comical version of Serafina’s husband, brings her back to love, laughter and life. Previously, Serafina had tried to suppress her daughter Rosa’s love for a sailor; now, fulfilled, she gives them her blessing. Serafina would later be reinvented as Lady in Mr. William’s nightmarish ORPHEUS DESCENDING where she, too, is brought back to life only to be destroyed by it but aside from Serafina’s moments of despair, THE ROSE TATTOO is lusty comedy, Eye-talian-style; it would be nice to think that when Mr. Merlo died, years later, and Mr. Williams began his personal and professional decline that Mr. Williams drew comfort from this play which was one of his own favorites.

For all his talk about love and the heart, Mr. Williams really dwelt on lust and the body --- aside from THE GLASS MENAGERIE, someone always has the hots for another in his plays --- but Nicholas Martin’s direction lacks the play’s sweaty eroticism (Mr. Williams wrote in repressed times; the sex is all in the anticipation and fadeout); like the fat little goat that is twice dragged onstage, Mr. Martin’s production is cute but far from randy (this is the Huntington, remember). The mood is further defused by James Noone’s set, not in and of itself (though he has failed once again to scale down the proscenium) but in its revolving on a turn table: just when things threaten to warm up, the set revolves and aesthetically cool things down. Kevin Adams’ tropical lighting on a tattered scrim adds a welcome bit of swelter and he opens Act Two with an applause-worthy moon; Mark Bennett’s Italian-flavored music is bittersweet.

Even though the Messrs. Chekhov and Lawrence were major influences on Mr. Williams’ art, the role of Serafina is similar to two other stage women in mourning: Adriane in Richard Strauss’ opera and Dynamene in Christopher Fry’s A PHOENIX TOO FREQUENT (which was borrowed from Petronius); both are resigned to a life of gloom but Life tweaks their self-assigned roles in the guise of a commedia troupe and the god Bacchus (Ariadne) and a handsome young guard (Dynamene) --- their comedy, akin to Serafina’s, lies in their passing from shadow back into sunshine while remaining in character. Mr. Williams wrote Serafina for Anna Magnani, who specialized in neo-realistic earth mothers (she played both Serafina and Lady in the film adaptations, winning an Oscar for the former); her Serafina was a tragedy queen pulling out all the stops and then having the rug yanked out from under her. At the Huntington, the situation is reversed with a “name” comedienne attempting to paint in darker hues. My only encounter with Andrea Martin was seeing her on television years ago where she did a funny/sexy parody of Sophia Loren hawking her perfume though I heard she was marvelous in the Huntington’s production of BETTY’S SUMMER VACATION. It is a pleasure to watch Ms. Martin at work --- her muse is a good-natured one --- and as long as she remains out-and-out comical, as in her struggles with a girdle or the slapstick side of her courtship, all is well if sitcom-ish. She does not deepen into tragedy or sensuality, however: she hits all the right notes but remains on the surface; as a result, this ROSE never opens to full bloom. Dominic Fumusa contributes an amusing Alvaro even though he is far too handsome to have the head of a clown; Tina Benko makes a definitive Other Woman, 1950s style, but several of the minor females are drag queen-garish. A special mention goes to Nancy E. Carroll as the Strega (the lady with the goat); this chameleon actress has the gift of changing her very being with each role she takes on. Here, she is composed of dust and old rags, speaking her few lines in a voice as timeless as the bayous; if I choose to praise Ms. Carroll as a walk-on the reason lies in my having seen her catch fire in larger roles, elsewhere --- she’s been golden, every time; her few glimmers here are no less memorable.

"The Rose Tattoo" (14 May-13 June)
HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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