Small Craft Warnings: Things that Float
Tennessee Williams' play Small Craft Warnings is notoriously rarely performed or revived (the most recent NYC production I can find a record of was in 2000), and with some good reasons: the play in 1972 was ahead of its time, and now it's happily behind ours. Director Cyndy A. Marion (who is developing a reputation as an interpreter of Williams' work), wisely keeps the play as a period piece, letting its universal themes of loneliness and unexpected tenderness shine through.
The play takes place in a beachside bar in California- "Monk's". Monk himself (Graham Anderson) is behind the bar with Doc (Patrick Terance McGowan), while a shy young thing called Violet (Andrea Maulella) sits in the corner with her suitcase. In comes Bill (Company co-founder Rod Sweitzer), a fading, but still vital, gigolo who is shacked up with beautician Leona (Linda S. Nelson) and living in her trailer, while carrying on with Violet, unbeknownst to her nebbish boyfriend Steve (Peter Bush). Into this mix comes Quentin (Christopher Johnson), a homosexual who is appalled to discover that his latest straight conquest, Bobby (Tommy Heleringer) is actually gay and thinks that Quentin is a (gasp!) nice man.
It is the anniversary of the death of Leona's gay brother, and so she's drunk enough to question the usual mendacities around her- the character dominates the play, her search for some kind of emotional connection with the twisted and unhappy people that surround her is the prime movement of the play- it's no accident that her name is an anagram of "alone". Each of the characters gets a moment to address the audience directly, in a spotlight, revealing their inner thoughts (an early draft of the piece was called "Confessional") in glorious monologues. All of the characters are lonely, longing for something they don't know how or aren't able to find. There is a certain irreverence to the script- finding the humor in the traditional Williams sacred cows.
Most of the actors are wonderful - Maulella is affecting as the brain-damaged everybody's girl Violet. Sweitzer is hilariously smarmy as Bill, wielding his good looks and tight pants as a weapon. Johnson is fantastic as poor Quentin, who's sold out and lost his sense of surprise. Heleringer is sweet and buoyant as the nearly post-gay Bobby, the only one onstage who actually leaves with a purpose in mind. Bush seems to be pressing too hard as Steve- his lines seem forced and overacted till the end, when Steve is meant to be too drunk to stand. McGowan's rough accent seems at odds with the dreamy and lyrical nature of Doc's character, but he still pulls off the role well. Anderson is no-nonsense as Monk; his simple performance is cumulative, you care for him without quite knowing why. Mark Ransom makes the most of a comical cameo role as a beach cop who's easily bought. Nelson is a hurricane as Leona - wonderfully all over the stage and in everyone's business, and shocked to discover that no one really wants to be in hers. The actress seemed a little unsure of herself at the beginning, stumbling a bit with the lines, but eventually settled in to the long Williams "arias", taking command of the stage, and giving a moving and powerful performance.
John C. Sheffler's semi-realistic set is beautiful and packs a lot onto the small Workshop Theater stage. David B. Thompson's costumes are perfect for the characters (Bill's sprayed-on trousers, Quentin's pocketsquare, Violet's ratty sundress). Debra Leigh Siegel's lighting is very effective, especially in the small space. Joe Gianono's music for the violin number that Leona plays often on the jukebox is lovely.
It's a pretty fantastic production, go check it out.
Small Craft Warnings
White Horse Theater Company
At the Workshop Theater Company Main Stage
312 West 36th St,. 4th Floor
Photo Credit: Joe Bly
- Andrea Maulella as Violet, Rod Sweitzer as Bill and Linda S. Nelson as Leona
- Christopher Johnson as Quentin, Linda S. Nelson as Leona and Tommy Heleringer as Bobby