Rumor has it, Tennessee Williams used to sit in the back of the theater for performances of his Streetcar Named Desire, and laugh hysterically when in the end, Blanche would be escorted out on the arm of a doctor en route to the insane asylum. Following his lead, two Tennessee Williams plays in town, the revival of Streetcar at the Broadhurst on Broadway, and the world premiere of his last experimental work, In Masks Outrageous and Austere at Culture Project, may cause a laugh riot.
Sister Stella (Daphne Rubin-Vega) is played sexy, not the usual frump, even when she’s pregnant. The women’s performances were nominated for Outer Critics Circle Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Awards today. Lanky Wood Harris is Mitch, kind of dumb, and by no means man enough for Blanche. Mann said Tennessee Williams like Chekhov thought his plays were funny, and quoting Tennessee: “Blanche is my funniest character.”
If New Orleans provides a noisy, jazzy, squalor for this Streetcar, the characters in Masks don’t know where they are. Is it a geographic problem? Or, is the beachy upscale setting a state of consciousness?
Director David Schweizer took the play’s unfinished drafts, left after Williams’ death in 1983, and worked its kinks, weaving threads that echo many great Williams plays: Streetcar, Glass Menagerie, Milktrain Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Vieux Carre. This abstract play works best if you know the masters’ opus and love his poetry and one-liners.The play’s women are over-the-top. Clarissa “Babe” Foxwood (a sublime Shirley Knight) is no Blanche DuBois but her yearnings go in a similar direction. Funnier than Blanche, Knight goes camp on Babe’s fragility. Mrs. Gorse-Bracken (Alison Fraser, a veteran of Charles Busch’s hilarious romp The Divine Sister) worries about her retarded son Playboy (Connor Buckley) being defiled at a lighthouse in exchange for jellybeans. If it doesn’t break your heart, it cracks you up.