BWW Review: Marisa Tomei and Tripp Cullman Bring Out The Operatic Flourishes in Tennessee Williams' THE ROSE TATTOO
The countless number of pink plastic flamingoes populating the upstage reaches is your second clue that director Tripp Cullman, that master of finding touching emotions through a quirkily altered reality, does not have naturalism on his mind for Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo.
The casting of Marisa Tomei, an accomplished stage actor who is no stranger to finding authentic humanity in a quirkily altered reality (i.e., her last two New York turns in Sarah Ruhl's HOW TO TRANSCEND A HAPPY MARRIAGE and, oddly enough, Will Eno's THE REALISTIC JONESES), is the first.
But this ain't no Streetcar or Glass Menagerie. The Rose Tattoo, Williams' 1951 offering which is returning to Broadway for the third time by way of a production that originated three summers ago at Williamstown Theatre Festival, is about as close as the playwright ever came to romantic comedy, and director, star and a very strong ensemble cast bring out the operatic flourishes of sorrow. joy, and even a little madness, in this tale of a grief-stricken Sicilian immigrant widow living on the Gulf Coast who finds fulfilling passion once again.
We never meet Rosario, the truck-driving husband of expert seamstress Serafina Delle Rose, but through an explicit gesture it's expressed rather clearly how he made his wife happy (aside from the fact that he fattens his pay by smuggling illegal goods). Smoothing out her form-flattering dress when we first see her, it's like Tomei's character is reliving her man's caresses with every touch.
Designer Mark Wendland's skeletal set represents Serafina's home primarily with stacks of candles making up a shrine to the Virgin Mother, allowing for a continual view of the gulf's waves hitting the shore, via Lucy Mackinnon's projections.
With a 12-year-old daughter and a baby on the way, life is looking pretty good for Serafina until she gets a visit from a demanding new customer (Tina Benko, strutting her lankiness with tough, dime novel bad dame authority) offering an extraordinary sum for a rush job on a shirt made from a rose-colored fabric. Seems it's for her man, who also happens to be a pretty virile lover.
Three years later, after Rosario's sudden death, the now reclusive Serafina is a bitter mess, especially after hearing gossip of her late husband's philandering from a pair of customers who are anxious to party (lively performances by Portia and Paige Gilbert). The widow's rejection of joy estranges her emotionally from her now teenage daughter (Ella Rubin), who is experiencing her first courtship with a gentlemanly and innocent young sailor (Burke Swanson).
The meaning of Williams' title comes into play when Serafina meets another truck driver, Alvaro, played by Emun Elliott as man who not only exudes sex appeal, but who craves for a woman he can passionately desire and please as much as she will desire and please him.
Their... um... courtship, is played with the wild exuberance of hearts and libidos moving swifter than bodies can accommodate, resulting in some very funny, realistically awkward moments. But underneath the laughs is the heartwarming pleasure of seeing Tomei's character decide she's ready to claim happiness again.
But is Serafina ready to trust a man again? And is Alvaro worthy of her trust?
And was Tennessee Williams willing to give one at least one of his leading ladies a happy ending?