Having reupped with Actors’ Equity, the White Barn Theater opened its 54th season with its first full-scale production in many years, the premiere of a hitherto unseen Tennessee Williams play. Hope quickly turned sour as the short play (a little more than an hour including intermission) revealed itself as psychologically and theatrically clumsy and unrelievedly ugly.
According to White Barn general manager Vincent Curcio, while appearing in Williams’ 1969 flop “In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel” the actor Donald Madden advised Williams to revise the play. Two years later Williams presented Madden with “The Day on Which a Man Dies.” Both Madden and Williams died within a month of one another in 1983, and Madden’s family gave the script to Curcio.
The play tells of a viciously self-centered couple who have been together for 11 years. Eventually the man, a painter who is impotent both sexually and artistically, commits suicide. (The belief is that the couple were based on Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.)
The central character has a lot in common with Williams himself, however, and “Tokyo Hotel” is considered to be largely autobiographical. The artist abuses himself with pills and booze, as did the playwright, and falls down a lot, as did the playwright.
In any case, the two central characters never come to life. Also problematic is Williams’ attempt to meld modern American theater with aspects of Japan’s ancient, stylized Noh theater. The two don’t mix.
References to the ritual suicide of Yukio Mishima, Mao Tse Tung and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seem dragged in: What do they have to do with the central couple’s tawdry relationship?
Other unconvincing elements of Arthur Storch’s staging include three “invisible” spirits that haunt the artist and Japanese gloss on a Greek chorus. Beneath the clutter, the play remains nothing more than the tale of a one-dimensional couple at each other’s throats.
Matters aren’t helped by the cast. As the wife, Tanya Lopert, an American actress whose career has been mostly in France, is particularly unfortunate in a blowsy, sloppily spoken way. Playing the artist, Tony Cormier is too wimpy. The rest of the cast seems inexperienced.
The physical production is fine, Leo B. Meyer supplying an atmospheric set of two rooms in a Tokyo hotel suite (rather than the bar of the original play), one of which has been turned into the artist’s studio.
The production’s most effective element is its score, composed by Joshua Pearl and played on Western and Japanese instruments by Pearl and Ian Turner. If only it had vintage Williams to underscore rather than this sad footnote to his greatness.