Theater review: ‘Five by Tenn’ at Theatre 68
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The flood of revivals in this centennial year of Tennessee Williams’ birth reaffirms his enduring preeminence among American playwrights. But not all of Williams’ plays are created equally well — a disparity abundantly evident in the one-act anthology “Five by Tenn” from 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company.
Not to be confused with an identically-named 2004 New York staging of posthumously discovered works, these five playlets, dating from the 1940s and ‘50s, are culled from Williams’ “27 Wagons Full of Cotton” anthology.
Populated by Williams’ poetically haunted dreamers and misfits who are too fragile for the world’s cold brutality, these pieces, each helmed by a different director, play like a quintet of character sketches that unfortunately too often misfire. The most fully developed — “Auto Da Fé,” directed by Brionne Davis — shows Williams at his Southern Gothic creepiest, as a controlling New Orleans matron (commendably naturalistic Deborah Geffner, in the show’s standout performance) bickers with her dangerously unstable son (Joe Massingil), a closeted postal worker consumed by self-loathing and religious fanaticism.
Early incarnations of Blanche DuBois figure in two pieces: a spinster (Perry Smith) losing her grip on reality in “Portrait of a Madonna” (the evening’s other successful segment, directed by Geffner) and a boarding house tenant (Shelly Hacco) putting on glamorous airs that fool no one in “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion” (directed by Jeremy Aluma). Running on the fumes of romantic illusion is the last recourse for a dying prostitute (Virginia Novello) in “Hello From Bertha” (Jamison Jones directs), and for a desperate tenement-dwelling couple (Natasha Makin, Shawn Parsons) in Patrice Nadler’s staging of the interior monologue driven “Talk to Me Like the Rain ... and Let Me Listen.”
These stories ache with Williams’ deep affinity for the tragedies wrought by human frailty, but too many challenges in his distinctive language and vision elude an ensemble that often stumbles on badly rendered Southern accents and overwrought hysteria.
–- Philip Brandes
“Five by Tenn,” Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 1. $20. (323) 960-5068 or www.theatre68.com. Running time: 2 hours.