Period of Adjustment at Loyola’s Lower Depths Theatre through Dec. 21
Some people like to see things they’re familiar with; they’ll go to New York and get tickets to Phantom of the Opera or Chicago or Wicked. They’ll attend Romeo and Juliet rather than Troilus and Cressida (not that there’s much opportunity to see the latter).
Similarly, here, audiences flock to productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Glass Menagerie both of which come along with a predictable regularity.
Hallelujah then for The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans (TWTC) for presenting, not only the better known of the French Quarter’s most famous writer’s works, but those whose names don’t often adorn marquees. Sometimes there’s a valid reason for that, but their current production, Period of Adjustment, is a gift to NOLA audiences. A slightly bizarre one, but one well worth unwrapping or, rather, attending this holiday season.
Set in a suburb of a mid-southern city in 1959, on its surface, Period of Adjustment appears to be a stage version of a period sitcom, or a first cousin, say, to Barefoot in the Park.
It begins with a husband, George Haverstick (Matt Story), dropping off his newlywed bride, Isabel (Sonia Rose Arredondo), at the home of Ralph Bates (John Lavin), his Korean War buddy, on Christmas Eve. The timing’s not great as Ralph had just quit his job that morning causing his wife of five years, his boss’ daughter, to leave him. As Isabel becomes acquainted with Ralph, she wonders if George will ever return to pick her up.
Williams keeps us guessing as to where he’s taking us and, though nothing really much happens in Act One, by sculpting rich, multidimensional characters with idiosyncratic dialog, he holds our interest throughout.
Let me rephrase that. He holds our interest throughout with the help of an imaginative directing team, Lizzy Bruce & Ryan Bruce, and a cast that gamely and expertly fulfills their vision of this material.
For Period shuns Neil Simon pseudo-realism. It teeters on absurdism but balances that with genuine pathos. It anticipates Edward Albee’s wild familial battles as well as Sam Shepard’s laments for the passing of America’s time in the sun. There are even hints of John Cheever-esque rue.
The Bruces & Co. shrewdly shift among these approaches, not in an arbitrary way, but in a moment-to-moment adjusting to the text. Heightened realism gives way to stylized movements as Williams has his characters go into extended monologues. Diane K. Baas’ expressionistic lighting, one of her finest efforts, underscores this as it shifts in concert with Williams’ changing tone.
I don’t want to give too much away but George does eventually return as does Dorothea, Ralph’s wife; her parents also put in an appearance. Williams will dole out existential questions and sprinkle metaphors (among them, from the play’s setting, “The Bates’ house is slowly sinking into an underground cavern atop which it sits.”) along the way to a relatively happy ending.
There’s a lot going on in Period of Adjustment, thematically, narratively, psychologically, linguistically (one character is described as a “cast iron virgin”), and as social commentary. This TWTC production covers these aspects well and it’s not meant as a criticism, by any means, to say that I could see Period being done in other ways. (With its homoerotic undertones, nicely hinted at but not overdone here, I could imagine Isabel being played by a man, not in drag, but making the Haversticks–note their name–a gay couple.)
I would actually like to see it again as it’s a bit much to take in all at once; the Bruces might’ve had the cast give just a little more shape or emphasis to certain plot points, some of which I didn’t get until reading about the play afterwards. (This may also be due to the acoustics of Loyola’s Lower Depths Theatre as the audience sits on both sides of the set, and the Southern accents which take a little while to get used to.)
With his Rock Hudson good looks and open physiognomy, Lavin makes Ralph sympathetic even as he goes on about Dorothea turning their 3-year-old son into a “sissy.” As this orphan from Mobile, Lavin can be viper-ish, underscoring the script’s sometime misogyny, but he also gives the sense, rightly, that he’s searching for something even if he’s not really sure of what it is.
Story makes a welcome return to the NOLA stage as George, whose hand tremors have no physical basis and who is questioning his impulsive marriage to Isabel. He brings a properly overwrought and tortured quality to George who was scarred by his time in Korea. If neither he nor Lavin strike me as archetypal Korean War veterans, all the better for intimating maybe, just maybe, somewhere along the way they became more than just buddies…or at least thought about doing so.
As Isabel, Arredondo absolutely shines. At first, I was afraid that her interpretation seemed a bit superficial. As she continued, however, it became clear that this was a stylistic choice and that she undergirded her almost dainty naiveté with a superb command of this young woman’s range of feelings, keeping them just under the surface, a victim of the repressed ‘50s.
Arredondo assuredly navigates the hairpin emotional turns Williams imposes on Isabel while never condescending to the character. She and Lavin adroitly sustain a non-mating dance through the first act, just the proper amount of electricity flowing back and forth between them. It’s an impressive NOLA debut.
Mia Frost brings dignity to Dorothea, wisely avoiding making her a harpy in any way. In their brief scene as Mr. and Mrs. McGillicuddy, Dorothea’s parents, Tracey E. Collins and John Wettermark add just the right notes of bluster and narrow-mindedness, sustaining Williams’ crackling dialog while keeping its soap opera-y tendencies at bay.
Kenneth Thompson’s set, with its pastel mint color scheme, ingeniously creates indoor and outdoor areas. Props to prop designer Destany Gorham for her phallic rocket launcher and all the other period memorabilia.
If I’m not entirely convinced of the believability of the path that Williams took to get to the happy ending of his “serious comedy”, the Bruces and their exemplary cast pulled it off in a wholly satisfying fashion, making a strong case for this play’s worthiness. And what more can you ask for at Christmas? After all, we have enough streetcars, cats, and menageries.
Somehow, don’t ask me how, I had never seen Audra McDonald perform live (I know, crazy, right?). This was finally rectified at Broadway@NOCCA’s second presentation of its season. What was I waiting for?!
I’m sure thousands of drops of ink have been spilled and pixels posted to describe how amazing this six-time Tony winner is, but let me just add that not only does she have a gorgeous operatic soprano and not only is she a true singing actress, able to convey the deep meaning of the lyrics as well as the prettiness of the notes, but, from the evidence of her 90-minute show at NOCCA, she’s a poised, intelligent, down-to-earth, utterly charming woman, full of warmth and laughter, the kind of person you’d want to hang out with no matter how many Tonys she’s won.
The many highlights of the show included the rousing opener I Am What I Am, My Fair Lady’s I Could Have Danced All Night which became an audience sing-along, and a tender but pointed melding of You’ve Got To Be Taught from South Pacific and Into the Woods’ Children Will Listen.
You could sense the deep but playful camaraderie between McDonald and Host/Music Director Seth Rudetsky who elicited tales of Madeline Kahn, Bill Cosby and what it was like for her, as a black woman, to be cast in a revival of Carousel. We also learned that McDonald struggled to find her way into the character of Billie Holiday for Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill until she discovered that Holiday spoke just like her grandmother. Then everything clicked.
McDonald treated us to Cornet Man, from Funny Girl, a saucy number about Jelly Roll Morton with which she won a talent competition as a 13-year-old. The judge congratulated her but wondered if she really understood the song; McDonald was indignant at the time (“I had done my homework!”), but years later realized how right he had been.
Asked what roles she had wanted but didn’t get, McDonald thought for a bit and stated that while there weren’t any stage ones, she wished she had gotten parts in the movies Jerry Maguire and Doubt. Softening the blow, was that they went to friends of hers, Regina King and Viola Davis, respectively, and made her realize she “wasn’t dreaming big enough.”
McDonald was joined by “Special Guest” Will Swenson, who happens to be her husband of seven years; they met when they were doing 110 in the Shade on Broadway in 2007. After a cheeky rendition of Oh, better far to live and die (aka I am a Pirate King!) from The Pirates of Penzance, he and McDonald dueted on You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, also cheeky…and, yet, lovely.
If Swenson’s stay was all too brief, perhaps Broadway@NOCCA will bring him back for a show of his own next season.
McDonald concluded the evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain, a chestnut that she infused with vitalness and strength. Her encore topped that, however, when she returned to the stage and, eschewing the microphone, sang Summertime from Porgy and Bess, allowing us to glory in the sound of her unadulterated, ineffably divine voice. Brava!
Broadway@NOCCA concludes its season on January 11 with Tony nominee Liz Callaway. When she last appeared here, at Le Petit in 2016, I described it as “a grand 90 minutes” and “a delightful evening”. She’ll be joined by special guest, our own Bryan Batt. It should be a great way to start off the new year.
The Beaubourg Theatre Company makes its debut in its own theater (614 Gravier St.) with Annie (The Flick) Baker’s award-winning John.
Set in a bed and breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Time ranked it at No. 8 on its list of Top Ten Plays and Musicals for 2015. The New York Times wrote that John is a “…haunting and haunted meditation on topics [Baker] has made so singularly her own: the omnipresence of loneliness in human life, and the troubled search for love and lasting connection.”
Troi Bechet and Janet Shea star in a cast which also features Joe Fredo and Maile Zox, and is directed by Xavier Juárez. Performances continue through December 30.
The NonProphet Theatre-South presents A Gothic Christmas, a “terrifying” twist on three holiday classics at The Allways Lounge Theatre (2240 St. Claude Ave.) December 27-30.
In “The Christmas Bargain”, visits from a trio of demons put Diedre’s dinner guests in mortal peril. Find out what vampires have to do with Christmas in “The Gift of the Callicantzaros”. And in “It’s a Horrible Life”, Bailey has had a very bad day and she just wants to put things right.
Written by local author G. R. Linden, we’re promised that “these grizzly takes on some of the most beloved Christmas stories ever told are not for the faint of heart.” Linden directs a cast including Hilary Neff, Joe Signorelli, Adrienne Burns, Robert A. Mitchell, Annabell Von Holt, Marcus Gandy, Ian Everett, Gwendolen McAuliffe, and Earl Scioneaux. I’ve been told by my sources that “It’s gonna be such a funny show.” Ho-Ho-Ha!
Please send press releases and notices of your upcoming shows to Brian Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.