Theater Review: Rare One-Acts By Williams Given Their Due Respect With Season Opener
PLEASE NOTE: At the advisement of the Town of Sherman, The Sherman Playhouse was dark this past weekend in an attempt to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The theater company is planning for regular performances the following weekend, according to a note on its website and Facebook page.
SHERMAN — Three rarely produced short plays by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams have been assembled to be performed as the season opener at The Sherman Playhouse. Directed with great affection and admiration by the skilled Katherine Almquist, these short plays are both haunting and humorous.
The first and longest of the “Three by Tenn” is The Gnadiges Fraulein, a dark piece featuring a sassy, sexy, and very chatty gossip columnist named Molly (played by Agnes Fohn). She enters fleeing from the indigenous cocaloony birds swooping in overhead on this remote Florida Key. She finds her way to a broken-down boarding house which is run by Polly (Beth Bonnabeau), a verbose woman with strong opinions.
Residing in Polly’s “dormitory” are a strange group of “permanent transients,” most prominently the Gnadiges Fraulein herself, a deeply damaged woman played by Noel Desiato. She hails from Vienna with a storied past. The Fraulein pays for her keep at the dormitory by picking up fish off the beach following rough weather and is constantly in search of a lost love. Unable to see, she finds herself drawn to fellow tenant Indian Joe (Robin Frome), a rough, primal type.
The predatory cocaloony bird is played by a very droll and serious Joseph Russo. His bird terrorizes the locals.
As Molly and Polly, Fohn and Bonnabeau are very, very talkative and excitable, at times bickering, at times in sync. Both roles have demanding monologues which are well delivered by these experienced performers.
The performance of the tortured Fraulein, given by Desiato, is stark and disturbing. She is a gifted performer who imbues this character with a tragic determination.
In This Property is Condemned, Ressa Nestor and Joseph Russo play Willie and Tom, two young teens during the Depression.
Living near the railroad tracks, Nestor’s Willie finds herself living alone in an abandoned home that has been condemned. In her youthful innocence, she learns the sex trade from her sister, who has passed, and finds the necessity of taking up the practice to be part and parcel of what she can expect. She thinks she is popular.
A soulful Tom is curious yet caring in his questioning of Willie. He wonders if she would be interested in performing for him, and by that query, the only evidence of Willie’s shame is apparent.
These two actors are excellent. Nestor has captured both the innocence of the woman-child as well as her confidence. Her performance is at once charming and heartbreaking.
The rendering of Tom is a study in nuance. Russo’s expressions and movements are so perfectly played, he is mesmerizing.
The final short play is A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot in which two women walk into a bar looking for a good time.
Playing Bessie and Flora, Stacy-Lee Frome and Susan Abrams are dressed to the nines, curiously all in black. On the hunt for a Sons of Mars convention in order to fulfill the promise of the evening, they take a seat and proceed to bicker and insult each other with backhanded compliments and full-on insults, tossed about as only lifelong friends can.
The women interrupt the waiter (Robin Frome) and only release their claws from each other with the appearance of two erstwhile Sons of Mars (Jeff Rossman and William Kenyon). Let the dancing begin!
The set for the first two pieces is a true highlight. Designed and built by Peter Carlson, the decrepit bungalow is authentic, adding a certain atmosphere of isolation.
Honoring the lesser-known works of this great artist is rare. These plays offer an opportunity to further witness the vision and talent of Tennessee Williams. In the hands of this wonderful cast, it is an opportunity not to be missed.
Performances continue through March 28, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, and Sundays, March 15 and 22, at 2 pm.
Tickets are $24 adults, $12 students/ages 12 and under, available in advance at 860-354-3622 or shermanplayers.org. They are also available at the door. Group discounts are available.