Seen Off Broadway: A Litany of Miseries.
Like archeologists digging through Egyptian tombs, directors love to raid the dark corners of Tennessee Williams’ body of work, looking for lost gems. The latest find is Small Craft Warnings, a 1972 drama that had a modest run Off Broadway (when business slipped, Williams himself stepped into the cast, playing the role of Doc, an alcoholic sawbones). The playwright’s defenders are always trying to prove that Williams’ later plays are, at the very least, stageworthy, but they have their work cut out for them with Small Craft Warnings. The script is nothing more than a litany of miseries, as enunciated by the human driftwood in a California beachfront bar. The actors in the Jean Cocteau Theatre revival are generally miscast, especially Elise Stone, who’s in danger of being arrested for impersonating Elizabeth Ashley. There are a few arresting moments but, all in all, the stage is cluttered with tragedy.
Interestingly, the production introduces two young designers. Michael McKowen’s setting is a neat bit of expressionism, with a steeply raked deck and a flying fish hung menacingly over the bar; McKowen is a master’s candidate at NYU’s Department of Design, and his work shows real ingenuity. Sound designer Sam Kusnetz, a senior at Brown University, creates an effective montage of music and effects at the opening of the first act. Susan Soetart’s costumes are appropriately seedy. Giles Hogya’s work shifts from a restrained nighttime stage wash to expressionistic shafts of light for those monologues; there are cueing problems, however. At the performance I attended, one such transition plunged the audience into darkness for several seconds.
One can’t recommend Small Craft Warnings to most people, but anyone interested in Williams will probably be sadly fascinated by it. Credit Scott Shattuck’s clear direction for giving the play a chance to speak for itself. He can’t help it if the author was tongue-tied.
Seen at the Movies: The Beast With Two Backs. Tim Blake Nelson's O, a modern-dress version of Othello in a high school setting, has been on the shelf ever since the Columbine shootings, but is finally getting a public airing via Lions Gate Films. Mekhi Phifer stars as Odin, a basketball scholarship student and the only African-American at an exclusive private school in the South; Julia Stiles is Desi, Odin's popular white girlfriend; and Josh Hartnett is Hugo, who is poisonously jealous of Odin's athletic and romantic success. As well done as all this is—Nelson, better known as an actor in films like The Thin Red Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, brings some lyrical touches to the direction, with the help of DP Russell Lee Fine--it's so reductive of Shakespeare's tragedy as to just seem silly. The movie, which was filmed entirely on location in Charleston, South Carolina, does have some atmosphere. Production design is by Dina Goldman.
In Memoriam: John Chambers, Oscar-winning makeup artist on the 1968 Planet of the Apes, died August 25. Chambers got his start fashioning prosthetic limbs for injured World War II veterans, did live television at NBC, and then worked at Universal's makeup department under Bud Westmore. There, he worked on such projects as The List of Adrian Messenger and the TV series The Munsters. After opening his own shop in the mid-60s, Chambers created prosthetics for I Spy, Lost in Space, Mission: Impossible, and Spock's pointed ears on Star Trek. For his 200 prosthetics on Planet of the Apes, Chambers won what was then an honorary, rather than competitive, Oscar. His other film credits include SSSSSSS, Phantom of the Paradise, the 1977 version of The Island of Dr. Moreau, and National Lampoon's Class Reunion.