The Fat Man’s Wife

Reviewer's Rating

The intimacy of Canal Café Theatre lends itself exquisitely to this one Act play by Tennessee Williams.  Written in 1938, when Williams was a mere 27 years old, the play was first performed in 2004.

This production, directed by Russell Lucas, captures and maintains an undercurrent dramatic tension throughout the 55 minutes performance, which makes the theatrical experience well worth the journey to this fringe theatre.

Vera Cartwright (Emma Taylor), a Manhattan wife of an influential theatre producer and a philanderer, Joe (Richard Stephenson) return home after attending a party. The verbal exchange between the two leaves no doubt of protracted matrimonial friction and the couple’s emotional estrangement.

Joe hardly looks at his wife. He seems troubled by the attention a young playwright, Dennis Merriwether, has paid her at the party.

Dennis, superbly performed by Damien Hughes, has decided to quit New York for a voyage and wants Vera to accompany him. Vera does not allow emotions that have been aroused by the handsome young man’s attention to prevail. She points to the age gap: “I can be your mother’s youngest sister”.

Vera decides to carry on living as ‘the fat man’s wife’ and not follow a passion which may also prove to be short-lived.

The audience is distributed around the small stage, within touching distance of the actors. You are in the living room with the couple and, when the husband departs for his rendezvous with a blonde actress called Esmeralda on the pretext of picking some aspirin, Dennis enters to implore Vera to come away with him, his passion laid bare for all to see.

The simple set on two levels accentuates the chasm between the two and the husband’s domination and control over his wife. After Dennis leaves, Vera sits at her husband’s feet to help him undo his shoelaces; there is an element of servitude and surrender as a woman married to a fat but powerful man as she utters: “We have to get used to saying unimportant things to each other for the rest of our lives”.

The play lacks the sophistication and complexities that we find in Williams’s later plays. The prose is occasionally banal but with this superb trio of actors and impressive direction, which strips the play of social class and location, the plot gains credibility that may not be in the actual play.