After six years The Glass Menagerie And four years earlier Cat on Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams looked into a Mississippi immigrant Italian family living in Mississippi. Rose Tattoo, which depicts a seamstress’ journey from happy wife to sudden widow paralyzed by grief. The play ran for nearly a year on Broadway and had several successful revivals, but today it’s remembered, if it’s remembered, for Anna Magnani winning the Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1955 film adaptation.
Now on stage at the Big Top in Grand Center, the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis’ production is directed by David Kaplan, curator and co-founder of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. Working off an idea by the St. Louis festival’s founding artistic director, Carrie Houk, he stages the action as a Fellini-style circus. It doesn’t always work; having the priest briefly don ringmaster’s garb, for example, adds nothing to our understanding of the play, nor does a cameo from a real, live horse. The real live goat is positively unhappy.
What makes this production worth seeing, though, isn’t only the rare opportunity to witness one of Williams’ second-tier plays — or even the realization that even lesser Williams is pretty damn entertaining. It’s not only the chance to see two great actors, but the true joy of this production is the opportunity to watch them at their best.
Rayme Cornel plays the role of Serafina Del Rose as a seamstress. This part could quickly become a cliché. Lighting up the second half of the play as her new love interest, Alvaro, is Bradley Tejeda, who made a huge impression in last year’s brilliant festival production of The Glass Menagerie. As a beleaguered banana truck driver who explains that his burdens include three dependents and a last name that translates, roughly, to “eat a horse,” Tejeda chews up the scenery to delightful comedic effect.
This immensely appealing actor makes a tragedy seem funny by taking it and making the comedy completely believable. You can see the attraction between Cornell and Tejeda, and also her hesitations. And you want a happy ending, which is rare for Tennessee Williams. There will be no spoilers here, but how nice to see that not every Williams’ play ends with abandonment or a trip to the insane asylum!
It turns out that Williams was not in a light mood when he wrote. Williams was writing Rose Tattoo Not only was he enjoying success after previous plays had taken Broadway by storm but he also was in the middle of an intense love affair. Frank Merlo was his lover. He came from an Italian-American working class family in New Jersey. Williams’ comedic depiction of his heroine as devoted to the blessed Mother, deeply superstitious and feuding with anyone willing to fight back feels like a gentle ribbing of the man he loved.
Understanding the relationship between Williams and Merlo helps explain both the play’s inherent optimism and its Sicilian-American milieu, which might otherwise make this new production a slightly discomfiting experience. Watching the almost entirely non-Sicilian cast go over-the-top with an accent that’s become the stuff of countless parodies (thanks, Godfather!) Feels almost transgressive. It’s the same kind of ethnic humor we abandoned when we began casting Latinos in West Side Story Instead of Natalie Wood or George Chakiris. You might wonder, Is that allowed in 2022?
I have to suspect a WASP writer wouldn’t get away with writing such broad Sicilian characters today. However, this was a big issue back in the 1950s. Rose Tattoo The scene in which our protagonist drops his condom onto the ground at the end of an Irish film helped to make it possible. The director was arrested by police for producing lewd entertainment. This incident led to reforms in Ireland.
But I digress. You can always take offense at something, but these reasons will change as time passes. Written with love and performed with joy, this feels like a play you should just enjoy — and the talented cast will see to it that you do.
Rose Tattoo Tennessee Williams wrote it. Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis directed the production. It’s on display at Grand Center from Sunday August 28 to Sunday August 28. Tickets: $45-50
Leave a Reply