BWW Reviews: Despite Some Thorns, 2nd Story's THE ROSE TATOO Blossoms Into Solid Entertainment
Among other things, playwright Tennessee Williams is known for plays which fit into the category of "southern gothic." His works are often set in the south and tell steamy, sordid tales of love, sex, power and death. One such play, The Rose Tattoo, is set in a small town on the gulf coast, where everybody knows everybody else's business and where secrets and passions run as deep as the humidity is high. Less often produced than Williams' other plays, Rose Tattoo is currently on the stage at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren.
At the play's center is Serafina, an Italian-American woman who is highly superstitious, deeply religious and deeply passionate in her love for her husband, Rosario. When he is killed, she goes into permanent mourning, expecting her teenage daughter to follow her example. Eventually, a strange man appears in her life, arousing the feelings of love and passion she had buried deep inside. His presence leads to her sexual awakening as well as the revelation of dark secrets about the husband she had worshipped.
Unfortunately, as directed by Ed Shea, The Rose Tattoo is beset by a number of problems. First and foremost is the challenge of accents and dialects. The program lists no dialect coach and one must wonder whether or not 2nd Story ever brought someone in to help the cast. Attempts at Italian accents are woeful but even worse are the attempts to speak actual Italian. Very few of the cast pull it off. Additionally, for a play set in the deep south, not one person sounds like they are from there.
In terms of language, another problem was that everyone was speaking much too quickly. This may have been an attempt to sound more like "fast-talking Italians." It had the effect of making actors even harder to hear or understand. Williams' plays are lyrical and poetic, with lines that are often meant to be spoken slowly. Much of this poetic lyricism was completely lost as I wished that everyone would just stop talking so fast.
While talking too fast was a problem, another was too many people talking at the same time. This was partly because the ensemble is just too large. It's true, there is a need to set the scene by having ensemble members pay townspeople, so that the atmosphere of the place can be crated. In this case, less would have been more. Most of them were hardly ever even on stage or served little actual purpose. Some of them were so over the top and unrealistic, they were more of a distraction than anything else.
Another distraction was the revolving set, designed by Trevor Elliot. While the set may have helped to create the indoor and outdoor settings needed for the play, it just didn't work. It turned too frequently, too fast, and very inefficiently. Again, it was another case where less would have been more.
Fortunately, 2nd Story has at the play's center an actress who puts the production on her shoulders and carries the show. As Serafina, Rae Mancini is on stage for almost the whole entire play, which is a laudable feat all on its own. She is a whirlwind of emotion, energy and charisma and she creates a character that is easy to sympathize with and root for. Her journey, especially when all the distractions around her go away, is entertaining and a lot of fun to watch.
Also great is Ara Boghigian as Alvaro, the man who enters Serafina's life and reignites her passion. Boghigian looks the part of a male Tennessee Williams character. He's tall, broad, manly and handsome, and you could easily picture him playing other Williams roles, like Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire. He's also got great comic timing and talent, with some very funny moments and lines. The chemistry between him and Mancini is really the fuel that keeps the play driving forward and makes the engine hum.
There are a few other notable cast members who deserve mention. Andrew Iacovelli is a lot of fun as Jack, the sailor who is in love with Serafina's daughter. Iacovelli's Jack is all raging teenage hormones and angst-ridden fear about what might happen if he upsets the mother of the girl he loves. Valerie Westgate was also good as Rosa, Serafina's daughter. While her acting was a bit over the top at times, I found her to be believable and fun to watch in the role.