Saturday, October 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: "Tennessee's Last Curtain"

A new creative work that attempts to dramatize playwright Tennessee Williams' final moments must transcend available information., says critic Jim Rutter. 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.

Review: "Tennessee's Last Curtain"

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

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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