Theater review: ‘Kowalski’ at Two Roads Theatre
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Theatrical lore is at the well-intended heart of ‘Kowalski,’ Gregg Ostrin’s ambitious rumination about Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando during the run-up to ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’
It’s well-documented that Williams (Curt Bonnem) vacationed in Provincetown, Mass., in 1947, with longtime advocate Margo Jones (Alexa Hamilton) and partner Pancho Rodriquez (Les Brandt) in tow. Also verifiable is that director Elia Kazan sent 23-year-old Brando (Ignacio Serricchio) to meet Williams, staking him to bus fare, which the future Method icon spent on food, hitchhiking up the Cape with a girlfriend (Sasha Higgins, a discovery) and arriving three days late.
Playwright Ostrin turns this fabled scenario into a zinger-laden crowd-pleaser, with various plot shifts reflecting Brando’s breakthrough role. Yet scholarly groundwork doesn’t automatically equal dramatic truth. Ostrin’s premise holds the potential for ambiguous sizzle and even surprise, but, under Rick Shaw’s direction, this script could change names and references and play the same. Thus, a momentous occasion becomes an ineffably conventional dramedy.
The darkly handsome Serricchio, visually closer to Farley Granger or Alain Delon, deploys measured intensity and technique to approximate Brando’s mannerisms, at least nominally. Bonnem’s features and physicality more closely resemble Williams, yet his generic drawl and obviated beats amount to a standard-issue, Southern-lavender turn.
Hamilton and Brandt are competent actors saddled with extraneous, functional roles, and when the sparky Higgins turns up midway, her seriocomic spontaneity instantly exposes what’s gone missing. ‘Kowalski’ will be a hit with stage trivia buffs, some gay viewers and fans of the central combatants. Still, to parrot Blanche DuBois, I don’t want realism, I want magic. Regrettably, there’s little to be found here.
-- David C. Nichols
‘Kowalski,’ Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Ave., Studio City. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 4. $30. (818) 762-2282 or www.tworoadstheater.com. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.