Entertainment » Theatre

Desire

by Kilian Melloy
Monday May 1, 2017
Damon Singletary and Sam Terry in 'Desire Quenched by Touch,' one of the six short plays based on Tennessee Williams short stories that comprise 'Desire'
Damon Singletary and Sam Terry in 'Desire Quenched by Touch,' one of the six short plays based on Tennessee Williams short stories that comprise 'Desire'  (Source:Photo by Richard Hall/Silverline Images)

I almost hesitate to say this, but Zeitgeist Stage Company's "Desire," a collection of six short plays based on stories by Tennessee Williams, outshines "Eight by Tenn," the similar omnibus production that the company produced last fall.

And why do I (almost!) hesitate to say it? Because these six plays were written not by Williams himself, but by others, who adapted a half dozen of his short stories for the stage. Who would have thought that anyone but Williams could put pull off a "Tennessee Williams" play?

The first selection, "The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and A Coffin," by Beth Henley, is the weakest of the lot. It's got plenty of familiar Williams tropes -- all these plays do -- but it somehow just doesn't take flight. It's the story of a brother, Tom (Jon Vellante) and sister Roe (Margaret McFadden) -- he's strange and awkward; she's a musical prodigy -- whose somewhat too-close relationship is intruded upon by a handsome boy, Richard Miles, who plays violin and distracts the amorous Roe, endangering her spot on the concert program. Wavering between sun-splashed and airless, this play's just a little too hermetic.

But then things take wing with David Grimm's "Oriflamme," in which Anna (Lindsay Beamish), a slightly dotty woman in a red dress, encounters Hooch (Damon Singletary). Does he mind if she shares his bench? "It's a public park; you're the public; park it!" he invites, following up by breaking out his flask. (This is why they call him Hooch.) She wants sex, but she also wants it dressed up with a smidgen of romance; he wants sex, but sees no need for such window dressing. Somehow, although they essentially have the same thing in mind, it's she and not he who's the slattern. "I wouldn't want you to think any less of me," she confides, gulping Hooch's booze. "I couldn't possibly," he replies, in full double entendre. Things are headed someplace ugly and pitiable -- but it's a fun ride.


Damon Singletary and Lindsay Beamish in 'Oriflamme,' by David Grimm  

"Attack of the Giant Tent Worms," by Elizabeth Egloff, stars Margaret Dransfield as Clara and Alexander Rankine as her novelist husband Billy. They're enjoying a holiday on Cape Cod... well, maybe not enjoying, since Billy is fuming at having to rid the house of the tent worms that infest the place. He's both resentful of the task (which he's doing as a favor to the landlady) and obsessed with it. It's here that we see just how far the playwrights are willing to go in their adaptations: This is set in contemporary times, with cell phones and Roundup part of the action. (A hunky fireman, played by Eric McGowan, also drifts through the play like a fever dream, Clara throwing him a long and sultry look -- a touch that's modern not in substance, but in style.) There's a twist that yanks the play too abruptly into another direction, but that's not a deal-breaker.

"You Lied to Me About Centralia," by John Guare (based on the story "Portrait of a Girl in Glass") is, fascinatingly, a revisitation of "The Glass Menagerie," only from the "Gentleman Caller's" point of view... not that you know it right away. The play starts with Betty (Katie Flanagan" explaining why she fibbed to her husband, Jim (Eric McGowan) about her destination for her trip that day. Her reasons, as it happens are sound, if venial; but it's what he's been up to in her absence that really hook us.


Eric McGowan and Katie Flanagan in 'You Lied to Me About Centralia,' by John Guare  

"Desire Quenched by Touch," by Marcus Gardley (based on "Desire and the Black Masseur") references another Williams shocker, but only conceptually. It's a story told in flashback as a police detective (Alexander Rankine) interrogates a suspect in the disappearance of a young gay man named Anthony Burns (Sam Terry). The suspect, Fountaine La Grand (Damon Singleterry), works as a masseur at the Turkish baths. Burns was his best customer. As the detective probes Le Grand's account of his relationship with the missing young man, his suspicions grow, but there's no evidence that the masseur has done anything wrong-- or anything more than what his customer asked him to do, which is an unusually rough style of massage. Still, Singletary's nuanced, rich performance tells you there's more here than he's letting on.

The sixth play, "The Field of Blue Children," by Rebecca Gilman, is hot, feisty, and unapologetic. Set at a college where sorority girl Layley (Margaret Dransfield) is surrounded by vacuous friends and courted by the athletic, if boring, Grant (Eric McGowan), the story warms up into a sizzling awakening for Layley when she and classmate Dylan make a sudden, ferocious connection. It all leads to an epic, nighttime picnic lunch that changes all their lives.

Director David J. Miller seems in perfect sync with his cast of uniformly strong actors. The simple, utilitarian set (also by Miller) easily becomes any setting needed with the addition of one or two furnishings -- a park bench, a desk, a massage table. What really sells the transformations of the settings is the lighting design, by Michael Clark Wonson, and the sound design, by Jay Mobley.

These "new" Williams plays honor the great writer's body of work and offer new insights into his prose. Get in to see this delectable half-dozen.


"Desire" continues through May 20 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please go to http://zeitgeiststage.com


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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