In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel: Unconventional Williams
If Tennessee Williams' In The Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is not exactly a great work that was underappreciated in its time, The White Horse Theater Company's new production, directed by Cyndy A. Marion, certainly reveals it to be an interesting curiosity. Premiering at Off-Broadway's Eastside Playhouse in 1969, the play is said to have been written during an experimental phase in Williams' career. The dialogue is terse with less of the poetic realism he was most noted for ("Suck my ass in Weatherbridge Square at noon on the 4th of July!") and the plot, involving the sagging career of a famous artist, seems a direct confrontation of his own streak of commercial and critical failures.
And it's very funny, too. At least it is in the hands of Laura Siner, as the loud, sexually aggressive, cocktail imbibing American in Japan, and Toshiji Takeshima as the barman who politely absorbs her attentions and rude remarks for most of the first act. The woman is Miriam, the wife of a renowned artist who has been creatively blocked and hoped that new surroundings might start the juices flowing again. Instead, he seems to have gone quite mad, believing that he has become the first artist to discover color. Miriam explains that while she's in the hotel bar teaching the barman the proper way to mix a stinger, her husband Mark is in their room spraying himself with paint and rolling on canvases. ("Circus colored mud pies.")
When Mark finally appears (the wild-eyed and edgy Niall O'Hegarty), he is a quivering, psychotic, alcoholic mess in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Miriam wants out of the marriage and has art dealer Leonard (Greg Homison, in chic effemininity) fly in to help her break the chain without cutting herself off financially.
Larissa Laurel has a silent walk-on role, which she plays to the desired effect.
If the evening merely holds your attention without really satisfying, I'll lean toward blaming the material rather than the actors or director for not being able to flesh out a collection of one-note characters. Though the production is, at the very least, entertaining, the play's most interesting feature is the fact that Tennessee Williams wrote it.
Debra Leigh Siegel (lighting) and David B. Thompson (costumes) both do fine work and set designer Patrick Larsen creates a nicely atmospheric barroom in a very tiny space. Such an intimate and cozy setting may make you want to order up a stinger yourself.
Photos by Joe Bly: Top: Laura Siner and Toshiji Takeshima
Bottom: Laura Siner, Greg Homison and Niall O'Hegarty