By Jim Rutter
FOR THE INQUIRER
Memories of trauma tormented Tennessee Williams most of his adult life. His father bullied him, his lover died young from cancer, his family had his sister, Rose, lobotomized. In his later years, Williams (1911-1983) coped with a deluge of alcohol, amphetamines and barbiturates. He choked on a bottle cap and died alone in a New York hotel room.
Anyone could learn the above from Williams’ Wikipedia page; a new creative work that attempts to dramatize his final moments must transcend available information. The solid production at South Camden Theatre Company can’t save the world premiere of Joseph M. Paprzycki’s Tennessee’s Final Curtain from failing in this crucial respect.
In Paprzycki’s play, Williams (Kenneth John McGregor) stumbles into set designer Robert Bingaman’s well-appointed suite, guzzling a glass of wine, the portentous pill bottle perched on the bar nearby. He opens the door to reveal … a young bellhop (Jihad Milhelm), bringing in booze and the bulk of the evening’s boring conversation. The kid moonlights as an actor, and the two pepper the other with questions about Williams’ dramas. Who inspired Stanley? Do you prefer a Blanche or a Stella? How am I a Brick type?
Is this a play or class in literary analysis?
Thirty minutes into this 90-minute two-act, a reference to Streetcar awakens memories. A panel in the wall illuminates, revealing Williams’ father (William Rahill) in relief. He steps from behind the wall and begins ridiculing his son. Later, Rose (Tenley Gwen Bank) arrives from memory to offer comfort.
The bellhop remains in the room even when Williams lunges at these imaginary characters with a knife. Instead of running out, he asks, “Who else visits you, Tom?” Anything to get into showbiz, I guess.Superb acting and engaging direction surpass the script’s shortcomings. McGregor compliments his spot-on gravely, lilting Southern drawl with the mannerisms of a battered ego clinging three-fingers on the edge of paranoia. The remaining cast equals his performance in tenor, though not depth. But what more could they do, when Paprzycki wrote a one-man play with three superfluous parts?
Allen Radway’s nuanced direction and Andrew Cowles lighting enable smooth transitions from Williams’ imagination to reality. Collectively, the cast and crew kept me interested far more than warranted by an exercise in solipsism that offered neither insight nor resolution.
Tennessee’s Final Curtain: presented by South Camden Theatre Company, 400 Jasper Street Camden, NJ. Through Feb. 26. Tickets: $15. Information: 856-409-0365 or southcamdentheatre.org