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STAGE BEAT

Two Sides Of Williams Served Up In 'Tennessee'

October 23, 1987|RAY LOYND

Tennessee Williams talked and wrote so much about his personal life that any play about him cannot contain much in the way of surprise.

To be special, a biographical drama must capture Williams' theatricality and his poetic lyricism. Ray Stricklyn's earlier Tennessee portrayal, "Confessions of a Nightingale," had the right color, and now we have another Tennessee rose--more faded and wilted but also more thorny.

"Tennessee in the Summer," a Southern California premiere at the International City Theater in Long Beach, dramatizes conflicting male and female aspects of Williams by using two actors. Playwright Joe Besecker has physically split Williams in two, and director Shashin Desai has deftly staged the self-confrontations.

The result is a treacherous gamble that is often a hoot but never frivolous. For instance, at one point an assertive and brash Bonnie Pemberton as Williams' female psyche spots a male hustler outside "her" window. To the consternation of Milt Tarver as the male Williams, working hard at his typewriter, the hunk is invited up and into bed.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 24, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 4 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Argalia Tommy Thompson plays the "aging survivor" in "Some Sweet Day" at the Lex Theatre. Another actor was identified as appearing in the role in Thursday's Stage Beat.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 30, 1987 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 23 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
The director of "Silo," the one-man stage show at Theater/Theatre, is Grant Moran. His name was misspelled in last Friday's Calendar.

Such split focus oversimplifies the entangled nature of duality. But the device works as an impressionistic blueprint of Williams' plays (and, by extension, the Blanche DuBois/Stanley Kowalski axis).

Tarver is wrenching in an alcoholic haze, pathetically eating dinner off the floor after it was dumped there by Williams' anguished real-life companion Frank Merlo. Elsewhere, dark, rangy Pemberton in her white silk slip throws her bones over Williams' bed with defiance.

You absorb the hothouse humidity of Williams' final years. And Tarver enjoys an uncanny resemblance to the playwright, who looked like a gambler on the Delta Queen.

Two supporting actors mercurially segue through triple roles--Brian O'Halloran is Williams' brother Dakin, Merlo, and the obligatory hustler. Alison MacHale is Williams' mother, a nurse, and the playwright's fragile sister, Rose. They are all well-defined portraits.

A wispy, tattered, shuttered and coppery interior serves the play's various times and locations, artfully rendered by designer Peter Gruber and lit by Paulie Jenkins.

Performances are in the northeast corner of the Long Beach City College Campus, 4901 E. Carson St. , Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 8. Tickets: $8; (213) 420-4275.

'SOME SWEET DAY'

There's nothing like a funeral to hurtle together disparate members of a family. In the black domestic drama "Some Sweet Day," by playwright Nancy Fales Garrett, mourning is followed by tension, travail and melodrama.

Abundant life flowers on a South Carolina farm in this production of A Director's Theater at the Lex--sisters scurry in the kitchen, cousins snarl on the front porch, a chic white wife (Kate Stern) fights back tears, her self-satisfied, upscale black husband (Leonard Thomas) cheats on her. Urban and rural values clash, the farm goes up for sale, the family's aging survivor (Ian Foxx) winks and takes private calls from a lady friend. That's the half of it.

The director is Claude Purdy (who directed "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at the Los Angeles Theatre Center). He deliciously forges a family's benumbed hurly-burly when the characters return home all in black from grandmother's services, but never quite paces the chaos with rhythms that coalesce.

Nor can the estimable acting talent (led by Fran Bennett, Peggy Hutcheron, and Hawthorne James) overcome playwright Garrett's fuzzy focus. It is irritating, for example, to still be pondering in the second act who is related to whom.

The concluding (offstage) tragedy is abrupt and unconvincing.

Stern as the white New York wife is stuck with a thankless and unrelentingly down-at-the-mouth role. Virgil Woodfork's nicely-angled set suggests offstage roads and fields but needs more interior scruff.

Performances at 6760 Lexington Ave. are Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 and 7:30 p.m.; through Nov. 21. Tickets: $10-$12, (213) 465-0070.

'SILO'

Capt. Norris wanted to be an Air Force pilot but had to settle for public relations. You are among "the distinguished visitors from Los Angeles privileged" to tour a Strategic Air Command base and hear the captain discourse on missiles and defense guidance systems, although he apologizes for the cramped basement and the absence of coffee (in Theatre/Theater's Backstage).

"Silo," written and performed solo by Bill Shick in a tight, 45-minute format, is a zany, oddly realistic personal Armageddon that nukes its target: defense preparedness and the programmed men in blue who purvey propaganda.

Shick's captain has one problem--he's a probable schizophrenic. Certainly he's having a nervous breakdown, confusing deterrents with his estranged wife, alternating between domestic/career turmoil and flashes of military decorum. His quick, quirky drawings of airplanes and silos are hilarious.

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