Cold, hard and brutal are not words one usually associates with Tennessee Williams, but the two one-acts featured in Tennessee Williams 1982 certainly are. A Recluse and His Guest and The Remarkable Rooming House of Mme. Le Monde are two of Williams’s last works and a window into his mind during his last years. However, if you walk in expecting the languid prose, haunting sensitivity, and basic realism of his earlier works you will be shocked and surprised.
Perhaps it is unfair to compare these two plays to his infinitely more popular earlier work but that is in part where the fascination lies. The transformation in both the man and his art is incredible- how you value that transformation is entirely up to you. Although these later works of Williams’ were meant as dark comedies, they come across as searing tragedies. This compilation evokes the poisonous anxiety that runs through the veins during depression. We sense that the issues he faced in his life are reflected on stage. To experience it so viscerally is a jagged pill to swallow.
A Recluse and His Guest tells the tale of a tall traveler of indiscriminate gender who we later discover is the woman Nevrika. After walking all winter in the wild she finds temporary respite in caring for the miserable recluse Ott. The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde is a raw and intense commentary on the state of our world where the greedy withhold sustenance from the needy as we fetishize money and violence.
While the one acts are set in completely different worlds–The Recluse and His Guest nods at a Nordic folktale while The Remarkable Rooming House of Mmd. Le Monde is set in 1980s punk rock London–there is a strong undercurrent that binds the two together. Both pieces deal with an achingly deep loneliness, a hopeless desperation for change, and the inability to connect in a highly corrupt, irrational, and dangerous world.
These plays are notoriously difficult to stage, a job that director Cosmin Chivu tackled admirably. After all. how do you suspend an actor and move him across a stage on a series of hooked ropes for 40 minutes? Chivu also uses a mixture of live music and media to support the script in a way that adds to the chaotic feel of the piece. The show has a talented ensemble cast with strong performances all around. Although casting an actual tall woman might have added a unique power dynamic to the relationship between her and Otto, Broadway vet Kate Skinner shines in both the roles of Nevrika and Mme. Le Monde.
Despite the committed performances I was always aware that I was watching a theatrical piece in a world separate from my own. That kept me from investing fully in the journey of the characters. In part this is due to the absurdist nature of the pieces, but there were also several technical elements that, if altered, would’ve allowed me to more fully suspend my disbelief.
This is a show for theatre connoisseurs who want to know more about the soul of Tennessee Williams or for people who would find relief in seeing the bitter hardness of the world acknowledged on stage. This show will leave you searching for the redemption the playwright never found. It certainly has made me think long and hard, a testament to both the playwright and the creative team who put up this production.