In this, the centennial year of Tennessee Williams’ birth, thanks must go to the Mother of Invention for demonstrating that no one need ever again revive “Small Craft Warnings.” Not even Austin Pendleton, normally a sensitive Williams interpreter, can resuscitate this corpse, which was DOA when it preemed in 1972 with the playwright in the cast. Helmer’s perverse staging (on folding chairs) only emphasizes the static nature of the plotless piece, which consists of the drunken, disconnected monologues of a bunch of lost souls drowning their sorrows in a sordid bar on the California coast.
This is Steinbeck country, but the morose clientele of Monk’s bar have none of Steinbeck’s humor or charm.
What they do have is a great longing for something they lost or never had, and a terrible compulsion to revisit the scenes of their past failures so they can suffer all over again. In his compassion for these small and battered human craft, Williams treats them with a grave tenderness that doesn’t translate in performance unless the actors are up to the job of filling in the outlines.
In this misbegotten production, the only characters who get that tender treatment are Doc (John Greenleaf), the old lush who keeps botching his illegal operations, and Quentin (Austin Pendleton), the masochistic screenwriter who can’t be happy unless he’s miserable.
Doc and Quentin aren’t any better written than any of the other denizens of Monk’s bar. They’re just the only ones played with a modicum of professionalism. The rest are thrown to the wolves.
Everyone is pretty hard to take, but the biggest, loudest bore is Leona Dawson (the extremely irritating Gina Stahlnecker), a blowsy hairdresser who turns ugly when her young lover quits her trailer and gets it on with a half-witted whore. With Stahlnecker chewing up the scenery (except, of course, there isn’t any scenery in this threadbare production), the rest of the cast has to fight for the chance to ruin their own roles.