Show: “The Rose Tattoo”
Company: Shattered Globe Theatre
Venue: Theater Wit
Die Roll: 3
I usually approach Tennessee Williams shows with a mixture of hope and dread. Hope, because for all his melodrama, the man was a fantastic writer. Dread, because so very many productions of his works go nuts with overwrought acting, and forget that the characters are meant to be real people, even in a heightened sense. Well, “The Rose Tattoo” has plenty of wailing, but it’s also chock-full of believable relationships, a small-town’s worth of characters, and – wonder of wonders! – humor. Lots of it. As in, I guffawed more than once (and it was intentional).
To sum up: in 1951, Serafina Delle Rose (played with mercurial aplomb by Eileen Niccolai) trumpets her love and pride for her husband, Rosario, to the neighborhood. She praises his virtues and fidelity. He’s a man on the rise – once he finishes this last banana delivery, he’ll have saved up enough to go into business for himself. Unfortunately, Rosario is shortly killed in a truck accident (this is Williams, after all). Tragedy! Despair! The neighborhood, an enclave of Sicilian immigrants, rush both to console Serafina but also to behold her sudden fall from self-proclaimed “baroness” to widow. At the same time, rumors arise that Rosario was not altogether faithful to Serafina, a fact that Serafina refuses to acknowledge. Instead, she retreats into her house, and rarely leaves it for the next few years. She refuses to dress, and gradually grows unhealthily overprotective toward her daughter, Rosa (Daniela Colucci). She has only her moderately successful dressmaking business to distract herself.
Fast forward three years. On her daughter’s high school graduation day, Serafina, driven slightly bonkers in her solitude, has locked away Rosa’s clothes so that she can’t leave the house. Last minute intervention by one of Rosa’s teachers gets the girl into clothes and on her way to her graduation, there to cross the threshold into adulthood, not only by leaving school, but also in advancing her relationship with her new beau, sailor Jack Hunter (Drew Schad). Histrionics ensue as the ladies of the block gently pry Rosa out of her Serafina’s hands and out the door, but the incident finally wakes Serafina to the notion that her world is changing. If she wants to have a relationship with her daughter, she’s going to need to come out of her fugue.
Into this mix lands Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Nic Grelli), a young driver for the same fruit company as Serafina’s deceased husband. He initially rescues Serafina from the unwanted attentions of a sleazy door-to-door salesman. In return for his kindness, Serafina offers to repair his torn jacket. A lovely relationship begins to unfold from there, with the younger Alvaro charming and wooing Serafina in spite of herself.
“The Rose Tattoo” is something of a departure for Williams. In this one play, it seems as if where he would normally turn a highly charged dramatic moment towards a tragic decision, he has instead found the humor and ridiculousness of a given situation. While there are flawed characters a-plenty who make poor decisions, for once those choices don’t automatically ruin these characters’ lives. Instead, even the missteps have the potential for hope and optimism.
Eileen Niccolai is simply fantastic at giving Serafina depth. On the one hand, Serafina is a broad character, given to passionate displays of emotion; on the other, she’s uncertain and defensive and unexpectedly sweet. Somehow, Niccolai finds a lovely balance between the extremes, and every shift in Serafina’s state grows organically from the situation at hand. What could have been a shrill, one-dimensional, self-pitying shrew is rather a complex and nuanced woman who hides nothing from the world.
As Rosa, Daniela Collucci is well-matched with her on-stage mother: calm when Serafina goes off the rails, loving, impatient, and strong-willed. It’s easy to see the two women as mother and daughter in their sallies around the living room; even more so in Rosa’s relationship with Jack, out from under Serafina’s watchful gaze.
Nic Grelli delights as Alvaro, bringing a sweet daffiness to a performance that in clumsier hands might have come off as overbearing. He’s all heart, and between the wooing, cajoling, seducing and joy he brings into Serafina’s house, it’s not hard to believe that the recalcitrant widow might find in him a soulmate.
Director Greg Vinkler has done a marvelous job with the whole ensemble in building a believable corner of Louisiana populated with all types. There are snooty upper class customers that Serafina sews for, her fellow Sicilian house-wives, a pair of off-kilter goatherd neighbors forever chasing a stray goat, and myriad others who mostly form the world outside Serafina’s house via little scene-lets and cross-overs. Still, each character exists with purpose, and these small details provide a tremendous world in this very excellent production.
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Richly told, wonderfully inhabited – all the drama with laughter besides!
Dice Rating: d12= “Heckuva Good Show”