Theater review: ‘A House Not Meant to Stand’ at the Fountain Theatre

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It took 30 years for Tennessee Williams’ final play, “A House Not Meant to Stand,” to make its West Coast debut, but it’s settled on a solid foundation at the Fountain Theatre. Though subtitled “A Gothic Comedy,” the emphasis is definitely on the Gothic.

Southern Gothic, to be precise. Set in a decaying Mississippi house — an unsubtle metaphor for the rot in its occupants and society at large — Williams’ caustic 1982 swan song is remarkably forward-looking in its outraged swipes at social ills: unaffordable medicine and healthcare costs, skyrocketing insurance rates and rapacious greed.

Director Simon Levy emphasizes Expressionistic grotesquerie as Williams’ characters exploit one another with relentless glee, and a fine cast ensures the grim laughter is contagious. Alan Blumenfeld’s splendidly belligerent patriarch, Cornelius McCorkle, faced with his wife Bella’s (Sandy Martin) slide into dementia, is concerned only with getting her to reveal where she’s hidden her grandaddy’s moonshine profits before he has to put her away for good.

Williams as late-career social satirist never equaled the inward-looking dramatist with uniquely poetic insights into fragile, sensitive souls trampled by a brutishly inhospitable world. Here, the focus is mostly on those doing the trampling (the only character with the stature of Williams’ classic protagonists — the McCorkles’ gay, alcoholic son — has already died before the play begins). Nevertheless, as the play eventually delves into Bella’s unraveling mind via Martin’s haunted performance and some nifty staging effects, Williams’ language, rhythm and imagery leave his reputation as a master playwright standing tall.


— Philip Brandes

“A House Not Meant to Stand,” Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 17. $25-$30. (323) 663-1525 or Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.