NOTHING WILD, EXCEPT…
Tess Frazer gives a stellar performance as Willie in Tennessee Williams’ This Property is Condemned, a play about an orphaned girl living alone in her family’s dilapidated house, which is one of three Williams one-acts in Something Wild…, presented by Pook’s Hill, with Ken Schatz directing. Ms. Frazer’s piercing portrayal, so tender and full of nuance, perfectly balancing Willie’s spunk and helplessness, intelligence and naiveté, hope and cynicism (among her many other qualities) is all the more remarkable considering that Mr. Schatz’s generally lackluster direction and his ensemble’s mostly uninspired acting leaves much to be desired (opposite Ms. Frazer, David Armanino phones it in as Tom, which fortunately does not hinder her acting in the slightest).
In 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Jake Meighan (Jack Haley) burns down his neighbor Silva Viccaro’s (Brian Gianci) cotton mill in order to buy Silva’s 27 wagons of cotton cheaply, after which Jake leaves his wife Flora (Samantha Steinmetz) alone with Silva in order to keep everything “neighborly.” Mr. Haley is a resourceful actor and puts on a dynamic show; the play comes alive when he’s on stage. However, Ms. Steinmetz’s Flora feels like a work in progress: the general contours are there but the details necessary to bring her character to life are either missing or not quite right; because Steinmetz lacks specificity and personalization, Flora is neither very compelling nor completely believable; Ms. Steinmetz lacks chemistry with Silva and she does not fully grasp Flora’s sexuality and contradictions. Mr. Gianci, for his part, stands on the stage like a block of wood that takes itself very seriously, offering a portrayal that isn’t so much one note as it is a dull muted thud; even the way he smokes his cigarettes is unconvincing.
Andrus Nichols as Bertha in Hello from Bertha, a play about an aging, delirious, terminally-ill prostitute trying to compose a letter to her one true love, plays her character with a lot of emotion and power but not much variance. Ms. Nichols seems like a capable actress, which suggests that perhaps she wasn’t given the appropriate guidance. In general, the direction of this one-act feels the most uninspired of the three. Rounding out this cast are a serviceable Vivienne Leheny, Imani Jade Powers, and Lizi Myers.
Taking into account the contrast between Mr. Schatz’s impressive resume and all the problems with the show, which include consistently dull blocking, odd use of the playing area, and a noticeable lack of attention to detail, including incongruous costumes, one gets the sense that Something Wild… is more exercise than a project Mr. Schatz feels passionate about, a production that, if not for Ms. Frazer and Mr. Haley, would be completely forgettable.
photos by Cecilia Senocak
Pook’s Hill at Abingdon Theater in New York City
scheduled to end on October 6, 2012
for tickets, call (212) 868-2055 or visit http://somethingwild.brownpapertickets.com/