Ever felt the fabulous joys of faux-suicide? Ever wanted to? Arguably, Peter Pan said it best; ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure’. Damn right.
No wonder gay art-gods galore have jacked, inhaled or orally abused hardcore narcotics and been half in love with easeful death. And, truthfully, what’s not to like? What paltry social thrills can possibly beat the incomparable rush of cheating death by mere micrograms again and again? It’s faux-suicide as a bizarre, repeat leisure option, the manic craving for ultimate euphoria trumping possible fatality every time. An intoxicating, irresistible dynamic, it’s one squarely shaping the brilliant, barbiturate addict core of an incomparable gay dramatist – Tennessee Williams. Time and again, Williams’ protagonists ache for a transcendent escape, and time and again, mundane necessity intervenes.
But forget clichéd preconceptions of blowsy, theatrical transvestism, of Tennessee ventriloquising unresolved angst and frantic, female denials of time and lost desirability via his leading ladies. The real Tennessee, as acclaimed director Robert Chevara’s astonishing revival makes clear, is as savagely modernist as uncompromising, enfant terrible Sarah Kane. Especially, post-1957 and a chance, street-walking meeting with gay maverick author Yukio Mishima, Williams’ language became a forensic instrument of lethal brevity. Or, more probably, the meeting simply reactivated a pre-existing precision; Williams’ first play, Not About Nightingales, has a demotic bite worthy of Harold Pinter.
So forget Blanche Dubois’ ‘kindness of strangers’; this set-up’s as brutal as a gangland massacre, with no baroque, hothouse excess in speech or decor. A ravishingly raked, minimalist set comprises a full-length bar back-stopped with disquieting, lava-lamp patterns in queasy motion. It’s an aptly sinister, imminent emotional killing field for William’s cast, celebrity artist Mark and viciously embittered wife, Miriam.
Appropriately – given William’s lifelong adoration of feminine beguilement – Miriam’s given the bloodiest share of the verbal meat, which, quite meticulously, she tears to vindictive shreds. Bored, and blatantly sexually promiscuous, she’s superbly played by vintage Stephen Berkoff muse Linda Marlowe, as severely, facially elegant as an Egon Schiele sketch.
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But crucially, the full potency of Williams’ witches’ brew only fully gels with one truculent ingredient – Mark. Played with bedraggled magnificence by David Whitworth in a suit spattered with kinetic, Jackson Pollack-style paint splashes, he’s an alcoholic void howling for impossible sublimity. Hopelessly shipwrecked on the shores of his own, hugely self-denigrated talent, vain, manic and despairing, he completes tonight’s savagely theatrical autopsy.
It’s uncomfortable viewing, of course; almost hateful, even, as a dead, but co-dependent marriage fuels impotent speech drained of love, life or hope. All shot-gun, gnomic haikus, Mark and Miriam are plainly the warring sides of Williams’ psyche, his most shockingly direct self-portrait yet. But never remotely predictable – even in his least assured work – Williams suddenly extends this brutal marriage, implicating audiences lounging imperiously smug offstage. Shockingly, we’re immediately complicit in a vile, incest ménage of pointless sex, vapid euphoria and maddeningly absent, inner meaning.
Still – to quote two infamous, patron saints of mediocrity – we’ve only just begun. For Williams, a Marquis de Sade of self-recrimination, this is barely entry-level abuse. If the semantic violence, so far, has lashed like a frenzied, sexually-crazed serial killer, the tone, the comportment, has been impeccably restrained. Almost, it’s old-world depravity, as seductive as Truman Capote elisions, a constant slippage of imminent catastrophe between word and action tautly drawn throughout. Then – with no prior warning – the directorial gloves slip off with the shattering force of a guillotine decapitation.
Mark, in cardiac arrest, dies onstage, and Miriam, her fixed rock irretrievably gone, instantly collapses inside herself. Stark, brutal and visceral, it’s an ejected, projectile pregnancy moment, all possible futures splashed bloody and impotent wall to emotional wall. In one indelible, theatrical moment for the ages – Miriam, utterly vacant, declaring ‘I have no plans and nowhere to go’ – director Robert Chevara creates a harrowing tour-de force worthy of Samuel Beckett at his bleakest. Intriguingly, however, one suspects Chevara’s barely begun to hit his interpretive stride, and the best – wherever it may lead – is surely yet to come.
by Fraulein Sasha de Suinn | @MsSashaDarling
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.