It’s easy to confuse desire with longing. Tennessee Williams often deftly treads that line in his lyrical story-telling, as he does in his plays.
Fans of Tennessee Williams are treated to 6 servings of plays built from his short stories in The Acting Company’s production of DESIRE, playlets based on Williams’ short stories, at 59E59 Theater’s 5A series, running through October 10th.
The playwrights, undaunted by their task to recreate what Tennessee has left for them, are mostly familiar names, most of whom don’t quite get the recipe right.
Only one of them, John Guare, dug right in to The Glass Menagerie. In his You Lied to Me About Centralia, based on the short story Portrait of a Girl in Glass, he regales us by revealing what that dinner at the Wingfields looked like to their guest.
The “Gentleman Caller,” Jim (Mickey Theis) tells his girl Betty (Megan Bartle) about his dinner with “Shakespeare,” and his mother and sister. Betty, in her turn, tells him about her trip to visit her Uncle Clyde to ask him for a gift so they could afford to buy a house.
Elizabeth Egloff covers Tent Worms from a Williams story from 1980 of the same name. Her adaptation looks at destiny, disappointment and failure. Egloff’s treatment is the most satisfying of the items on the bill.
In Tent Worms, Billy (Derek Smith) obsesses over the worms that have taken over the trees in his and Clara’s (Liv Rooth) Cape Cod rental. Clara tries to shepherd him back to his typewriter but he is hell-bent on eradicating the pests, whose fate somehow parallels his own.
Rebecca Gilman transposes a 1939 short story to the present, with characters engaging in such contemporary activity as texting each other.
In her The Field of Blue Children, students at an Alabama college are divided as highbrows and sorority. Layley (Megan Bartle) traverses the categories by taking a poetry class and going out with Dylan (John Skelley), a poet who is dating snarky fellow intellectual Meaghan (Kristen Adele). “Behold the New South rising,” Dylan recites and then crosses out the line.
Anna’s (Liv Rooth) scarlet evening dress is her attempt at romance in David Grimm’s Oriflamme, adaprted from the eponymous 1974 story.
She encounters Rodney (Derek Smith) in the park at midday. “God, they say,” he tells her, “gives no man more sin than he can handle, and gambling seems to be my allotment.”
If Anna has the airs of a Blanche du Bois, Rodney is her Stanley.
Desire Quenched by Touch is based on Desire and the Black Masseur. Like the original, Marcus Gardley’s play is freely laced with stereotypes. Grand (Yaegel T. Welch), a musician turned masseur, is being questioned by Detective Bacon (Derek Smith) about the disappearance of his client Burns (John Skelley). This lurid little tale is full of humor , and twists.
Sad to say, none of the plays in DESIRE rise to the level of a Williams at his best, but many capture the rich and unexpected flavors of his art. The plays, like the stories from which they are sprung, are often odd.
Sometimes desire, and DESIRE as well, is tinged with intimations of mortality. The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin is whimsical. Beth Henley, no stranger to the Southern tale, speculates on the story of a piano prodigy, Roe (Juliet Brett) who abandons imagination and play with her brother Tom (Mickey Theis) to practice a Chopin violin and piano duet with Richard Miles (Brian Cross).
Director Michael Wilson pulls together the divergent works offered under the umbrella of DESIRE.
For more information, please visit www.59e59.org.