Tennessee Williams addresses own struggles in short play

by Kyle McGoey | 11/5/12 11:00pm

9205_article_photo
Directed by Gabe Rodriguez '13, Tennessee Williams' one-act play will run for one more night in Moore Theater.
by Nushy Golriz and Nushy Golriz / The Dartmouth

The one-act play was written in 1970 during a dark period in Williams' life, in which his lover had died and his favor with critics had long since evaporated. Williams fell into a pattern of heavy substance abuse that would eventually lead to his death in 1983. "I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays," published posthumously and performed for the first time in 2011, is undoubtedly one of Williams' minor works, but a number of factors made it an appealing choice for Rodriguez's directorial debut, he said.

"Tennessee Williams has such an interesting language," Rodriguez said. "His way of writing is fun, but also very challenging."

The concision of the play, which is less than 45 minutes long, was another advantage, Rodriguez said. Given the time crunch that the Dartmouth term presents and the tendency of Dartmouth students to take on as many extracurricular activities as possible, Rodriguez said he appreciated being able to dive into the play and experiment with aspects of rhythm and delivery that would have been ignored out of necessity in a longer, more elaborate production.

Another unique component of "I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark" is its unique play-within-a-play structure. The actors on stage portray the cast and crew of a play that is spiraling out of control, as the actors, director and stage manager successively attack the playwright for his clunky script, incurable stubbornness and drunken misanthropy.

This outside chaos parallels the crumbling relationship between the Southern lout Tye, played by Ben Page '12, and a neurotic New Yorker, played by Margot Yecies '15, as she tries in vain to kick him out of her New Orleans flat and pick up the pieces of her broken life.

"These two people are existing on a thread," Rodriguez said. "Not just because they're poor, but because they're a volatile mixture. And the chaos affects the entire structure as well, so that at some point the characters lose track of how real the exterior is compared to the interior."

The structure of the play could at times be disorienting and, combined with the play's extremely short run time, made for an experience that felt a bit sketched-out and unfinished.

"[The nested structure] was challenging, but the challenges aren't really in either level," Rodriguez said. "It's in the switching between the two that things sometimes get blurred."

The passion and fire shown by the actors, however, saved the play. In particular, Chris Gallerani '15 shone as the nameless playwright, channeling the tortured soul of Williams, who had become so mired in addiction and scandal that his trio of masterpieces, widely regarded as classics of modern drama "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" were all but forgotten by both critics and the public.

Rodriguez credits Gallerani's success to his thorough research of Williams' life story, which helped him to step into the playwright's shoes and embody his viewpoint in an authentic, powerful way.

Yecies, a prospective theater major, said that researching the playwright's life, as well as the setting and time period of the show, helped her greatly and is often part of her preparation for roles. Learning about New Orleans proved especially helpful for her in embodying Jane, an outsider in a city that bears little in common with Jane's hometown of New York.

Things started slow, as the inner play's rehearsal halted for the actors to nitpick the wording of the script, and a pair of gawking tourists, played by Perrin Brown '15 and Kristina Mani '16, interrupted the action onstage between Tye and Jane. But after Tye's aggressive sexual pursuit of Jane culminates in rape, the petty squabbles and interruptions disappear, replaced by storm-outs, shouting matches and physical confrontations between the playwright and the play's director and stage manager, played by Bryan Thomson '16 and Junaid Yakubu '16, respectively.

On stage, tension builds as Tye lays out the horrors of working in a Mob-run strip show, and Jane reveals that she must sell her body to avoid destitution. The two plots build concurrently as the playwright takes the stage with the actors, walking them through the play's climactic scene and showing in the process that perhaps he is the only one who knows the pain and desperation contained in his play well enough to act it out.

As the lights fade to black and the playwright takes center stage, staring helplessly into the depths of the Moore Theater audience with his trembling actors, Williams' central thesis becomes clear, but it would be another nine years before Neil Young would come along to articulate it perfectly: "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

"I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays" has its final show tonight at 8 p.m. in Moore Theater.