Five by Tenn: Short Stories by Tennessee Williams

Last of My Solid Gold Watches featuring Joseph Rose, Frank Bowman and Kelly Gilmore
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Photo credits: Bob Johnson: [email protected]

 

 

Those who admire the plays of Thomas Lanier Williams III (Tennessee Williams) are certain to enjoy five of his short offerings directed by Ward Nixon. Plays such as: “The Strangest Kind of Romance, ”Hello from Bertha,” “The Last of My Solid Gold Watches,” “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen,” and “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion” being presented at the Bernie Wohl Center, located at 647 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan.

The ghost of Tennessee Williams threads throughout each play. Initially Williams struggled to create, publish his work and then finally get literary approval. In order to write one must be observant of the world around them. This requires examination of self, people, and situations. In each play the aging characters are forced to face their choices and bear the pain and emotions that others stir within them. Williams discovered that sometimes the judgments, assessments and rigors of life can drive a person to drink and even cause extreme depression.

In the five plays set in the 1940's and `50s, each character as they age finds death lurking nearby as they face the choices they made. In the “Strangest Kind of Romance,” lonely souls find themselves in a run down boarding house wherein the landlady (Beth Griffith) craves the kind of love her invalid husband can no longer provide. She seeks companionship from her male boarders, most whom are transient and down on their luck. One of her tenants leaves a cat behind and the new tenant (Franco Pistritto) alone and lonely, cares for and loves the cat. The landlady tries to strike up a relationship with him but he feels closer to the cat than her. She is encumbered with her father-in-law, an old man and alcoholic played by Joseph Rose, who is considered a pest by all; therefore has no one willing to salve his loneliness. Frail, the cat lover is overcome by the strains of his job and is put in a mental ward for observation. When he returns his beloved cat has been put out by the landlady and a boxer (Clinton Faulkner) is now in possession of his former room. The boxer who discovers the landlady was not exclusive in her romantic interests, becomes angry and departs leaving the landlady without the romance she so desperately craves.

Hello from Bertha,” takes place in a brothel in the red light district of East St Louis. Portrayed by Gloria Sauve, Bertha is sick and dying but refuses to leave her bed or get medical help despite the pleas of the brothel Madam, Goldie (Susan Case). Goldie is a patient soul as she suffers the insults of the delusional Bertha whose drinking makes her think Goldie has stolen her money. She rejects Goldie's sincere help and only trusts fellow prostitute Lena (Valarie Tekosky) who cares for Bertha as best she can. Refusing to accept she is on her death bed, Bertha clings to the promise of her favorite client who once said he would take care of her whenever she needed him. She writes him a “hello” letter hoping he will come to see her although she has been sick for a long time and has not seen or heard from him. Living a good time life in her past without a thought for her future, Bertha dies awaiting a love that never comes. 

The Last of My Solid Gold Watches,” tells the story of salesman, Mr. Charlie (Joseph Rose), who laments. He remembers his days of glory as he sees the world changing around him. At one time he stayed in fine hotels and ate at quality restaurants. His customers respected him because he gave them quality merchandise earning him awards and gold watches for his honesty and masterful salesmanship. But modern day brought cheap quality merchandise, self-centered and greedy people who cheated their customers to make a fast buck. Gone were the days of honorable men whom Mr Charlie had worked with and played cards with; many who had passed away. He shared his feelings with the porter (Frank Bowman) who seemed to understand him. The porter offered gentle assurance as Mr Charlie, tired and feeling painful tugs at his heart, wished for the return of the good ole days. Feeling he no longer belonged in this new world Mr. Charlie saw himself as an old warhorse. He missed playing cards with his old friends. Thus, invited Harper (Kelly Gilmore), a young man to his room to play cards. While drinking up Mr Charlie's liquor, Harper was unable to relate to the long gone era Mr. Charlie spoke about. Harper argued his viewpoint of not seeing anything wrong with the modern world of greed and acquisition. This upset Mr Charlie whose anger boiled over causing him to kick Harper from his room causing Mr. Charlie's heart attack. Finding Mr Charlie dead it becomes clear to the audience that the porter was really Mr. Charlie's guardian angel. The Porter/Angel took Mr Charlie's hand pointing the way into the afterlife where Mr Charlie was overwhelmed with joy.

Talk To Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen,” features a couple who much of their lives didn't listen to each other and discovered after awhile they didn't have much to say to one another. However, one rainy day while staying in a room on the west side of Manhattan, they had the occasion to speak to one another and actually listen. It seemed it was always the man (Jeff Burchfield) who talked and expected his wife (Janet Girardeau) to cater to and listen to him while inwardly she dreamed of escape. But this day, he actually asked his wife what she thought and how she felt and to his surprise, learned of her desire to be alone in quiet solitude wherein she only had herself to serve. The man having learned his wife's true feelings realized his self-centered behavior had caused him to lose something precious in his life...his wife. This revelation brought them closer.

The performance entitled “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion,” rounded out the final five short Tennessee Williams' plays. This play finds Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore, ( Marilyn Duryea) a genteel lady from New Orleans, whose real or imagined younger life she claimed, was as a rich aristocrat. However, like the crumbling vestiges of that era, her life had taken an unpleasant turn and now she found herself in a rundown boarding house unable to pay the rent. Depressed and seeking ways to distract Mrs Wire, the landlady trying to collect rent, she regaled Mrs Wire with tales of her aristocratic life and when that didn't work, complained incessantly about flying cockroaches invading her room. While at the same time possessing Larkspur lotion used to treat body crabs and lice. A fact that did not escape Mrs Wire (Sheila Dehner) whose attitude was - Aristocrat or not... pay your rent or get out! Another alcoholic boarder (Mark Solari) overhears Mrs Wire order Hardwicke-Moore to pay up or get out comes to her defense. Tired of both boarders, neither of whom paid their rent, Mrs. Wire ordered them to leave the following day. The con was over and the two could only laugh because after all they had earned themselves one more day.

It seemed Tennessee Williams struggled with drugs, alcohol, depression, unrequited love and homosexual relationships. He experienced the very highs of life and sunk into the very lows that played out through occasional bouts in mental institutions. Facing his demons Williams dived into life feet first and through his written characters brought his experiences to life.

The show is closing soon but you can catch the remaining performances: Thursday, June 16th at 8pm; Friday, June 17th at 8pm; Saturday, June 18th at 3:00 and 8:00 pm and finally Sunday, June 19th for the 3:00 matinee.

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