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A CurtainUp Review

Adjoining Trances

Toward the end of Adjoining Trances , there's a soliloquy that makes us get inside the tortured soul of Tennessee Williams and relive whatever version of The Glass Menagerie we may have seen. It's a scene in which Marc Geller fully conveys the playwright's genuine love for his sister and his pain at not having been there to alter her tragic fate. "She was the love of my life", he begins softly, adding that he meant nothing incestuous because "we were both too shy." Rose was his shield against loneliness and when she "sailed aimlessly away into madness" he was left alone. When his otherwise indecisive mother insisted that she undergo a frontal lobotomy, his loneliness was fanned by guilt at not being there to prevent her becoming "a little boat adrift on a lake."

 Unfortunately, this powerful scene comes after too many others which fail to rise to its emotional level. In the overall, Geller, who also directs this play, relies more on the stagey mannerisms of an impersonator than the emotional interpretation required to bring a staged memoir to life. While he's undoubtedly got the way Tennessee Williams smoked down pat, that's hardly enough to give us the full sense of a rounded and real character portrait. (If I can permit myself an aside on those cigarettes -- Herbal cigarettes represent a worthy effort to counter dangerous second-hand smoke . However, their fumes can be as annoying as perfumed magazines. Until we totally eliminate cigarette smoking to establish mood or character, the link between cigarette and glamour remains unbroken). To get back to the two-hander that just opened at the Beckett Theater on theater row (42nd St. between 9th and 10th Avenues).

 Sally Frontman's Carson McCullers also fails to engage us at a visceral level. Which leads to the conclusion that the basic problem with this evening is not a lack of talent on the part of the actors, but the fact that Randy Buck has saddled them with roles that simply do not do justice to the models that inspired them. The premise of a play based on the friendship of two famous writers whose concerns with isolation the difficulty of communication and the lonely search for values in a chaotic world is a good one. The setting and basic time frame is authentic--Nantucket during the summer of 1946 when these famous friends and literary soul mates actually did spend their mornings writing at opposite ends of a long table. If you're a fan of these two writers, as I've long been, you anticipate dialogue crackling with wit and lyricism and surely, at least a few nuggets culled from their writings. What you get is a nice enough beach setting by Leonard Cossari but too little of the crackle and nothing at all from their work.

 The alternating monologues by "Tenn" to "Sister" (his name for her) are interlaced with both writers dredging up bits and pieces of their tortured personal histories leading up to the summer at hand and beyond it. The soft Southern voices sound poetic, yet except for a glimmer here and there -- (like his announcement after the end of another unsatisfactory liaison that "the trapeze of the flesh still swings along") -- the lyrical and witty elements one expects are largely suffocated by long stretches of talk about their sexual passions and frustrations and how it feels to "be special" and driven to keep writing even though it doesn't get easier. Talking about writing, like talking about sex, rarely gives one a sense of what it's really like. To take this analogy a step further, rendering bits and pieces of a writer' life tends to be a poor second to experiencing that writer's work.

Many will be grateful to Adjoining Trances if seeing it or reading about it prompts them to return to their bookshelf or the library to read some of McCuller's wonderful portraits about the grotesque and the lonely and Williams' equally wonderful plays--or to attend the next revival of The Member of the Wedding or any of Williams' plays (even the more minor ones), or to re-visit those available on video (The Member of the Wedding, The Rose Tattoo, A Street Car Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie are all still available).

By Randy Buck 
Directed by Marc Geller 
With Marc Geller and Sally Frontman 
Samuel Beckett: 410 West 42nd St. (212) 388-8062. 
9/25/97-10/12/97 (opens 9/28) 
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/29 

Some Background on That Summer Meeting  In Nantucket  and On the Works Mentioned 
The summer '46 in Nantucket that serves as the setting for Adjoining Trances preceded the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire on December 3, 1947. It ran for 855 performances and won both the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize and established Tennessee Williams as an international as well as an American playwright. 

  Tennessee Williams' sister Rose was the role model for his gentlest and most frequently produced and published play The Glass Menagerie. which was first produced in 1945, eight years after the frontal lobotomy so poignantly described in Adjoining Trances. The procedure was actually one of the first of its types performed in the United States. Thehe pain of watching its effect on his always delicate sister, prompted the playwright to leave his native St. Louis. 

Carson McCuller, then Lula Carson Smith, left Columbus for New York City in 1934, to study both music and writing--music at Juilliard and writing at Columbia. Her marriage to Reeves McCuller is the stuff of a full-length play in its own right. 

 At the time she and Williams worked together in Nantucket she had published three novels: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Member of the Wedding. It was at Tennessee Williams suggestion during the Nantucket summer that McCullers adapted The Member of the Wedding into the play that was to be her major success. It won a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for bet play of the season and was sold to Hollywood where it was made into a fine film starring Julie Harris, Ethel Walters and Brandon de Wilde. (It's still available on video).

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