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Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Tuesday, July 14 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, July 18 at noon
Thursday, July 23 at 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 26 at 2:30 p.m.

They say: Join us in an atmosphere of magical realism. Three characters suffering from insomnia. A piano, a businesswoman, a homeless, and a young man… Tennessee Williams appears like an angel to save them…

Emily’s take:

I was left wondering where the magic was in the show’s advertised magical realism, and slightly disappointed that there was no ghostlike figure of Tennessee Williams (listed as the show’s playwright) descending from the top of the stage mid-play. But beyond my dashed dreams for ghostly versions of dead playwrights, I wasn’t even sure how the play fit together, or if I was understanding the narrative arc. Turns out, I wasn’t.

Among the nicer touches of the play was the onstage piano player (Justin Paschalides) plucking out lovely tunes throughout — a classy bit of diegetic music. The screen at the back of the stage lit up with changing illustrations of city scenes and the moon, reminding me of Harold with his purple crayon, creating the world with a series of drawn lines.

As I surmised (half-correctly) from watching the action, the play starred three women: a shaky older businesswoman (Lorena Sabogal) running for the regency of the Daughters of the Confederacy; an impassioned but frustrated writer (Karen Morales Chacana) engaged in melodramatic battles with her typewriter and one-sided conversations with her former lover, the piano player; and a homeless woman (Cecilia De Feo, also the director) who travels back in time to an earlier part of her life where she was mother to the piano player. Strangely, she appears to persuade him to set her up on a date with one of his friends.

I puzzled over how the three characters knew each other in scenes where their monologues intersected, finally surmising they were neighbors. Or two of them were, rather, while the homeless woman lived outside the building. In the end, the three got together and, trading clothes while swapping spots at the typewriter, began hammering out the details of a shared escape fantasy to a small town where they’d never have to see any of their acquaintances again. Finally, they sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me” in unison.

Unsure of on what grounds exactly Tennessee Williams was given sole playwright credit for this show, I asked one of the cast to clarify if the script was pieced together entirely using monologue chunks from Williams’ other works.

The answer revealed a level of the play I had entirely missed. Yes, the script came from pieces of four of his plays, with a few transitional texts inserted by De Feo, but these three ladies were each playing two characters. The businesswoman, writer, and homeless woman I had correctly pinned down were the “waking” versions, but the three also dreamed themselves into characters from Williams’ plays. In a too-subtle transition to a new dream world, Sabogal morphed from a businesswoman to Cornelia from Something Unspoken; Morales Chacana became Maggie from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Paschalides at the piano taking the part of her inattentive husband; and De Feo in slumber turned into Amanda from The Glass Menagerie, trying to find a husband for her daughter, not trying to get a date of her own as I’d initially surmised. Talk to Me Like the Rain… and Let Me Listen provided the ending monologue, shared among the three as they tapped at typewriter keys in turn.

Presumably this would have all been much clearer to me had I read The Glass Menagerie at some point since tenth-grade English. But even if I were a Williams scholar, or if I’d had detailed program notes to refer to, I might have struggled making the leap between De Feo’s imaginative conception and what was on stage before me. And I certainly wouldn’t have grasped the larger vision of re-purposing Williams’ work to play with the meta-theme of theater representing truth through transformation.

The actors are commanding presences, and the pianist gifted. But it’s a convoluted attempt to have many levels in a play that runs a little short of its hour-long billing, and ends up not quite having enough backstory on the characters for real audience investment.

See it if: You want to see a whirling pas de deux between writer and typewriter.

Skip it if: You hated it when your American Lit teacher made you read Tennessee Williams.

Image courtesy of Cecilia De Feo