Chicago Theater Review: THE ROSE TATTOO (Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 19, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

CAUGHT IN TENNESSEE’S WALTZ

An opera disguised as a play, Tennessee Williams’ 1951 labor of longings The Rose Tattoo is the first and last word on heartbreak. The master made a good choice to tell it through vibrant, hot-blooded Sicilian-Americans living on the sultry Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile. These sometimes stereotypical survivors allow him to give full voice to a flamboyant portrait of punished passion and toxic hope.

Nic Grelli and Eileen Niccolai in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of THE ROSE TATTOO by Tennessee Williams, directed by Greg Vinkler.  Photo by Michael BrosilowUnashamedly and completely, director Greg Vinkler exploits Williams’ magnificent excess in Shattered Globe Theatre’s–well–shattering revival. Larger and louder than life, perfectly presented in Sarah Ross’s tellingly detailed, cut-away set, beautifully costumed to period perfection by Sara Jo White, this production discovers in each of its 150 minutes that we love Tennessee Williams because he loves us even more.

In this very communal work, Williams imagines an unnamed village where many feelings fester: At the vortex of so much inexhaustible gossip, punctuated by children’s games that hardly seem innocent, slumps the unmerry widow Serafina Delle Rose (Eileen Niccolai erupting in bravura breakdowns). Everybody’s into this dressmaker’s business, especially the Strega (Darla Harper) next door. Superstitious and mercurial, Serafina is an emotional extremist mourning a husband she really didn’t know: Her lost Rosario was a former baron turned truck driver and part-time gangster, reduced to smuggling dope and inevitably murdered by fellow hoodlums.

Drew Schad, Daniela Colucci and Eileen Niccolai in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of THE ROSE TATTOO by Tennessee Williams, directed by Greg Vinkler.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Undeterred by truth, clinging to the gold urn containing her husband’s ashes, Serafina cherishes the mobster’s memory, despite her adder-tongued harpy neighbors who insinuate that this rotten banana was a womanizing louse. Not incidentally, Rosario had a rose tattoo on his chest: Soon enough Serafina will find its thorns.

Eileen Niccolai and Daniela Colucci in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of THE ROSE TATTOO by Tennessee Williams, directed by Greg Vinkler.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.Too depressed to wear more than undergarments, Serafina channels her sorrow into thwarting any hope for happiness in Rose (affecting Daniela Colucci), her 15-year-old daughter. Infuriating to her mother, Rose has found a much better man in a decent sailor (Drew Schad) who respects her virginity as much as he fears Serafina’s prudery.

But by play’s end we discover this lonely lady’s hypocrisy as well. Yet, oddly, it turns out to be the one way she can break free of her suffocating sorrow. In a clumsy, comic, one-night courtship Serafina falls for another, very different truckdriver: Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Nic Grelli, richly enjoying this “commedia” role) is a strange wonder to Serafina: “My husband’s body—with the head of a clown.” When a condom falls out of his pocket, it’s as much of a sign from the Virgin as Serafina could deserve. Soon lust replaces mourning. The infatuation self-destructs but all-suffering Serafina can now hold onto hope, a retroactive blessing that will last a lot longer than a rose tattoo.

Nic Grelli and Eileen Niccolai in Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of THE ROSE TATTOO by Tennessee Williams, directed by Greg Vinkler.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

In this very juicy play, Serafina’s steamy saga couldn’t feel more vibrant, immediate or combustible. Vinkler orchestrates Williams’ alternately comic and melodramatic potboiler with aplomb. This wise if messy drama offers casebook proof of how unwittingly hilarious is the gulf between one person’s outsized ardor and an uncaring world’s bonehead indifference. Williams used drugs, sex and booze to counter the contrast. But to our great gratitude he also wrote plays like this.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Rose Tattoo
Shattered Globe Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
scheduled to end on February 28, 2015
for tickets, call 773.975.8150 or visit www.theaterwit.org
for more info, visit www.shatteredglobe.org

for info Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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