Thursday, February 21, 2013

REVIEW: LCC Presents Three One-Acts by Pulitzer Prize-Winning Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams was an American writer (1911-1983) who worked principally as a play-wright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs.

His best-known works include "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "The Glass Menagerie" and "A Street Car Named Desire," the Pulitzer Prize-winning play set in New Orleans.

Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash. presents three of his lesser-known one-acts, "The Long Goodbye," "The Purification" and "Something Unspoken" in An Evening with Tennessee Williams.

Something Unspoken

The weakest of the three plays, "Something Unspoken" is a bit of a commentary-comedy that explores the relationship between a southern aristocratic woman and her private secretary. There are only two actors in the piece. Scarlet Clark directs and plays the woman. Shizuka Wolf Moon plays the secretary. The material wasn't William's best and the presentation suffered some in it's lack of sincerity.

While Wolf Moon was enthralling, Clark could have benefited from an outside director. It is just difficult to to direct oneself, being so close to the work and unable to observe your own performance. She didn't carry herself as a southern woman, nor did she use a southern accent.

Furthermore the hairstyles weren't right, nor the costuming. (Paisley was NOT part of the 1930s deep south.) In fact little attention seemed given to the 1930s period. Overall I felt the execution should have been pushed/played more toward farcical comedy. I began to drift, having difficulty finding a plot or purpose.

The Long Goodbye

"The Long Goodbye" is a drama about a young man who moves out of the family house filled with memories of his family. Ably directed by Gian Paul Morelli, well dressed, designed and  very nicely lit. The show stars Corey Farmer, Timothy R. Laughlin, Shae Coleman, Dante Huffine, Tyler Donnely, Thomas Loren, Zack Lyon and Susan Laughlin.

Timothy Laughlin and Shae Coleman gave standout performances, with Coleman showing a special flair for her role as a 1930s woman. The best, most authentic performance by far was given by Susan Laughlin. There were many delightful moments.

Scenes, into the past and back to the present, were nicely shifted with the use of area lighting. There were many nice touches to the direction and performance and it was technically well done with the one exception of a non-period lighter (get a Zippo).

WARNING: Language is an issue and there are racial slurs.

The Purification

"The Purification" is a high drama piece about a woman who has died and the people who knew her gather to judge the man who killed her.  It is an extended poetry piece much like Shakespeare and includes musical undercurrents that augment the drama and lend an ethereal quality to the work. A very stylized mood piece dealing almost imperceptibly (due to the period) with infidelity, frigidity and incest.

The large cast consists of several leads and a group of eight "chorus" members. Standouts were Wolf Moon, Daniel Fox and Hanna Badger. Susan Laughlin also contributed her great talents to a small role, but all roles were played well, though I felt Spanish accents were in order (and they weren't used).

The set was delightful and the lighting outstanding! Lighting and direction by Donald A. Correll were top notch. The lighting in and of itself was perfection (with great use of color and texture) and lent a great deal to the feel and mood of the piece. From the dramatic opening to the very last line every moment was interesting and intriguing. It was a visual and auditory delight. Very, very classy.

An Evening with Tennessee Williams plays February 21-23, February 28-March 2, and March 7-March 9. General Admission Tickets are $8, Senior 55+/ Non-LCC Students are $7, and LCC Students and Staff are FREE. Performances are at the Rose Center for the Performing Arts, Center Stage at Lower Columbia College, 1600 Maple St.,  Longview, Wash. For more information contact them at 

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler


The World of Williams

Tennessee Williams is, in my opinion, one of America’s best playwrights. And most of his plays have a relationship to other plays/characters of his, as well as his personal life. And so it is with the plays presented here: 

"Something Unspoken," late 1930’s Mississippi, directed by Scarlett Clark (directing debut); "The Long Goodbye," late 1930’s St. Louis, directed by Gian Paul Morelli (Executive Director of Columbia Theatre); and "The Purification," the Southwest, directed by Donald A. Correll (Producer of Center Stage).

"Something Unspoken" concerns a wealthy Southern spinster, Cornelia (Scarlett Clark, also the Director) caught up in the fa├žade of the gentry of the Old South, with all its charms, manners and, totally out-of-date perceptions, of the current world and society. Her companion/secretary, Grace (Shizuka Wolf Moon) of 15 years, lives with her and has the dubious distinction of probably being her only real friend.

As Grace purports, in a touching monologue by Moon, their lives are shades of gray, but hers is reminiscence of cobwebs and Cornelia’s, of Emperors. But Cornelia lives in a world cushioned by classical music when things become dire. She feels music soothes things over rather than speaking them out-loud. Therefore, there is always, something unspoken. Williams’ lack of respect for high society are also clearly shown in the characters of Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the matron in "Suddenly Last Summer."

Clark’s direction, in what could have been a static play, works well, as she keeps her characters moving. She does fine as the fussy aristocrat, but even better is Moon as Grace. She has a very touching monologue and seems to have a sense of purpose in her character, even in silent moments, as she listens, reacts and thinks. Nicely done piece.

"The Long Goodbye" is probably the most personally connected of the three one-acts. It tells of a writer, Joe (Corey Farmer) in St. Louis who, unable to make ends meet, has to sell the family house and move into smaller quarters. He voices his qualms [and] regrets in leaving [by reveling] the memories of the past to his friend, Silva (Timothy R. Laughlin). The play even reveals flashbacks into his past, with his ailing mother (Susan Laughlin) and, possibly, whoring sister, Myra (Shae Coleman). But leave he must, as he reflects, “Life is just a long, long goodbye.”

Williams did live with his mother and sister in poverty in St. Louis, which is also reflected in his most personal full-length play, "The Glass Menagerie." And he did brush shoulders with communist sympathizers and was also gay in real life (Silva alludes to Joe as being, “a sissy”). The director, Morelli, does a good job of shifting the story back and forth in time, without confusing the audience. And Ms. Laughlin is particularly moving in the brief role she has as his cancer-stricken mother.

"The Purification," may be the hardest to explain. Williams, in addition to being a great playwright, was also a poet and essayist. This play is lyric, more in the style of a Greek tragedy (as it has a Chorus that comments on the proceedings) or related to Shakespeare’s "Romero and Juliet" (in which two warring families must face the truth of their children dealing with elicit love and death).

In brief, a daughter of one family, Elena (Hanna Badger) has been killed by her husband (Nathan Joel Clark), the son of a family "from the other side of the fence.” The families present this scenario to a Judge (Michael Cheney) to decide the outcome of the murder and how to satisfy “the waters/rain” so that they can go on with their lives. [Editor's Note: I felt Cheney performed well enough, but it was not his best opportunity to shine; he was so wonderful in last season's "A Flea in Her Ear."]

The director, Correll, does a beautiful job of staging this play and the cast is fully vested in presenting it. The Designers [the Set (Robert Cochran), the Costumes (Jennifer Cheney) and the Lighting (again, Correll)] have added immensely to the vision in this production. And, again, Ms. Laughlin, as the mother and Moon (as Luisa, a seer), stand out. And Cheney and Clark are especially good, as is Daniel Fox in the role of the son.

This dream-like play, again, has a basis in another Williams show, specifically, "Camino Real," (his only real failure on Broadway), which is also a lyric drama. And also in his awe of the awareness of the Spanish-Indian people, such as the flower seller in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Stories of lives lived, perhaps, in alternate universes.

These are plays for people that wish to explore fuller the depths of an important writer and to experience the dedication of artists in an educational setting. For those lucky few, well worth your time.

Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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