Tennessee Williams Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before

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Antonis Achilleos

Some 33 years after Tennessee Williams passed away, his later works are getting the attention they rightly deserve. One of the leaders of this charge is Romanian-born stage director Cosmin Chivu, who is directing Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company’s Tennessee Williams 1982, an evening of theater that treats audiences to the world premiere of A Recluse and His Guest and the New York premiere of The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde. Pairing the two works together, Chivu and crew expose audiences to a side of Williams that has rarely been seen, one in which Williams abandons realism to forcefully hold a mirror up to viewers and make them see the abject horrors of humanity.

Tennessee Williams 1982 is a far cry from an evening of light theater, but that’s what makes it spectacular. In A Recluse and His Guest, Williams skillfully breaks our hearts with his take on a fairytale. A mysterious woman Nevrika, played with tremendous grace by Kate Skinner, appears smelling horribly and wearing horse leather. The denizens of the remote village, offended by her appearance and her odor, question her gender (and sanity). It is in these early moments that Williams and Skinner expertly reel in anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. Not belonging to the town’s society, Nevrika is immediately ostracized and sneered at. She becomes a stand-in for the outcast in all of us.

Skinner embodies Nevrika’s life of constant change, making her existence both a literal and metaphorical journey. Foisted off on Ford Austin’s Ott, the recluse, Chivu cleverly has Skinner remove a layer of clothing every time Nevrika reveals more about her journeys to Ott. She transforms before our eyes from crone to maiden. Conversely, the existence of Austin’s Ott is profoundly marked by his fear of change and his ability to keep everything constant. Nevrika disrupts his status quo, and Austin deftly shows how Ott discovers more about himself through her subtle and gentle nudges, causing him to grow through the very changes he opposes.

Nevrika and Ott’s differing natures are also their undoing, which leaves the audience to discuss how much of our lives are controlled by our natures. We may have individual wills and desires, but does fate—or our nature—supersede all? Can we ever escape our own nature and truly transform into something else?

All pretense of fantasy is abandoned in The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde, where Chivu utilizes the jarring aesthetic of the '80s punk movement to magnify the hyper-real world Williams has crafted. In the bizarre play, a young man paralyzed from the waist down is hosting a school chum for tea. His landlord’s son is the walking embodiment of Freud’s Id, and completely lacks any conscience. Oh, and his landlord is a homicidal maniac.

Swinging himself around the stage on a series of hooks on ropes dropped from the ceiling, Jade Ziane’s Mint impresses us with physical ability, while tugging on our heartstrings. Mint is resilient and strong, finding ways to hoist himself about his room and drag his useless limbs behind him. But despite having an acute mind, he is taken advantage of and raped twice by the son, Declan Eells. The audience cringes as they watch how grotesquely humanity treats those not able to fully fight for themselves.

Despite these atrocities, it is Patrick Darwin Williams as Hall that truly turns our stomach. With sinister aplomb, he has crafted a character who is so self-entitled and self-involved that he refuses to acknowledge the struggles of his friend, Mint. Upon witnessing Mint’s condition, he says “My theory about afflictions and accidents is that they’re self-induced.” As the play progresses, this mindset leads him to almost completely ignore Mint’s requests for assistance. Hall is too selfish to actually lend a helping hand to a friend in need. He also proves himself to be greedy, arrogant, and blind to his own foolishness, allowing him to ruthlessly entertain the audience.

Mint, too, is blind to his folly, expecting that he has a friend in Hall. Both become victims of their imprudence in the end of the play, prompting Skinner’s Mme. Le Monde to offer the play’s most profound line: “The world is accident prone, no use attempting correction. After all, the loss of one fool makes room for another.” Clearly, Williams’ was highlighting the ills of the world he saw. His contemporary audiences just weren’t willing to accept his views. Fast forward to 2016, and one simply needs to watch the GOP debates to recognize the veracity of these words.

Tennessee Williams 1982 runs at Walkerspace (46 Walker Street, NYC) through March 13, 2016. Visit www.playhousecreatures.org for tickets and more information.

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