IN MASKS OUTRAGEOUS AND AUSTERE Send This Review to a Friend
Any writing by Tennessee Williams is worth paying attention to, so it becomes of special interest to learn that a play he was working on but wasn’t staged in his lifetime has now been pulled together and given a production at the Culture Project under the direction of David Schweizer. What was Williams up to in this one?
The characters and some of the situations have a familiar Williams ring. Especially with Clarissa “Babe” Foxworth, dynamically played by Shirley Knight, one can see past connections. There are also snatches of poetic writing in the Williams tradition. But everything adds up to a play quite fascinating to watch even though it doesn’t click as a satisfying work.
The plot is cloudy and long after you leave you may still be trying to figure out what exactly was afoot and what the motivation was for what occurs.
The scenic design by James Noone confronts us when we take our seats. It’s a glitzy array of background mirrors, flashing lights and noisy sounds giving the impression of an ultra modern environment that is at odds with a Williams play set in 1983. During the course of the drama projection is used for the insertion of two characters seen only that way, one played by Buck Henry, the other by Austin Pendleton. The location is a sundeck facing the ocean in a place identified only as Gideon’s Point.
It would appear that Babe, her bi-sexual, ill husband Billy (Robert Beitzel) and his lover Jerry (Sam Underwood) are being held captive, guarded by mysterious men in suits who are named Gideons. Babe has a sexy, complaining assistant, Peg (Pamela Shaw), who has a muscular working-class lover, Joey (Christopher Halladay). Alison Fraser has a showy role as Mrs. Gorse-Bracken, the flamboyant woman next door, who drags around her simpleton of a son called Playboy (Connor Buckley), who at one point is seen enthusiastically masturbating. It is quite a Williams entourage.
The main attraction is Knight, who rants and raves as a woman who has seen better days and is trying to retain control over her life and those in it. She is furious at her husband for having a lover, whom she deeply resents. She is angry at Peg. She is deeply upset at not knowing where she is geographically. Nobody will tell her. Gideon’s Point is all she knows, but where is it? Babe seems a compendium of various Williams heroines and Knight is on stage most of the time. It is a huge performance that shows off her acting fortitude.
When Babe at one point reveals that she has a gun, we can immediately expect that it will be used, and we would not be wrong. The play comes to a violent conclusion as we ponder what’s been going on, who is responsible and, of greater interest, what Williams was striving for in this very strange work that he left behind. At the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette), $75-$85. Phone: 866-811-4111.