Joe Besecker’s dramatic romance with the life of playwright Tennessee Williams directed with a fluid hand by Sal Romeo currently comes to life at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Toluca Lake. I have not vetted how accurate Besecker’s research has been, but the creative effect of showing Williams as the boozy egomaniac he might have been and simultaneously as a sexually charged barefoot nymphet clad only in a slip lends electricity and insight to Tom’s journey.
Lacey Anziec’s simple set with empty picture frames, shabby furniture and mottled gray walls is strewn with discarded pages; well illuminated by Paige Selene Luke’s simple lighting design. The pages, ripped from his old Remington, are rejected attempts by Williams (powerful Jack Heller) and his alter ego, The Woman, (lithe and sexual Tamara Braun) to continue to work as he struggles with drugs and alcohol; success and failure. The pressure of Williams coming from a family of lunatics at once gives insight into possible sources for Amanda, Blanche and Maggie the Cat: each of whom appear here in other forms. Rose (Williams’ psychotic sister) is portrayed gently by Louise Davis who also limns the Nurse and Tennessee’s mother, the equally batty Edwina.
Set initially in 1972, Williams struggles with issues of bad reviews of his Small Craft Warnings and is taunted by his alter ego, The Woman, posing seductively in a window facing out from a New York hotel room. She lures a boy to come up to play. The voice of Williams seems to be channeled by Besecker using phrases like “my writing is the universe” and “I want to get my goodness back” which may have been direct Williams’ quotes. Romeo’s pacing and stage pictures, especially the image of the crucifixion of The Woman confined in a mental hospital for his over indulgences ties the work together.
Robert Standley finds three strong attitudes with his Youngman, Frankie (Merlo) and Dakin, Tom’s brother. Frankie and Tennessee meet at a party where the young Sicilian hunk offers himself to the writer on a silver platter. They stay together for fourteen tumultuous years with Frankie at once a trifle and also the Love of Tennessee’s life, though shared with a myriad casual lovers who never seemed to quench the writer’s insatiable sexual appetites.
Not for the prudish, the work in this production is professional and deserves an audience. The closeness of the seating to the stage allows for subtle and moving moments as well as literally feeling the heat of the characters as they smolder and occasionally burst into flame.
Whether or not to take the story literally is optional. For any student of Classic American Theatre, even the casual mention of “Streetcar” or “Menagerie” are enough to become immediately enveloped in the larger than life characters who, at once, are familiar and completely honest and truthful to their stories. It’s about the drama of the Drama, after all, and Tennessee Williams will remain, himself, a Classic American Dramatist.
The turmoil suggested in Tennessee in the Summer is testament to where the Drama must have come from. The play presents an equally fervent illustration of the passions, not always uplifting, that created its tragic hero.
TENNESSEE IN THE SUMMER
By Joe Besecker
Directed by Sal Romeo
Sidewalk Studio Theatre
4150 Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
April 13 – May 20, 2012
For information and tickets: 800 838 3006
818 558 5702