Chicago Theater Review: THE MUTILATED (A Red Orchid Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 19, 2016

in Theater-Chicago


Tom “Tennessee” Williams never buried his treasures. The ultimate, unashamed “bleeding heart,” this passionate playwright put his soul and guts into every show he ever wrote–actually into every character, with contagious compassion and dependable shocks of recognition. Sometimes, his works even capture his state of soul while writing them.

Mierka Girten and Jennifer Engstrom in Tennessee Williams' MUTILATED at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Few do it better than the little-known The Mutilated from 1965, a time when Williams wasn’t into drugs as much as they were into him. Williams considered this fantasy for 14 actors “an allegory on the tragicomic subject of human existence on this risky planet.” Proudly and invincibly maudlin, his almost literally intoxicating one-act casts a drunken 90-minute spell on the crowded Red Orchid stage. Grant Sabin’s set design is as colorful as it comes without getting arrested. This revival directed by Dado gives you contact highs just by watching.

The Mutilated is indelibly drenched in the sybaritic atmosphere of New Orleans’ Quartier Latin at Christmastide, including the seedy Café Boheme and other dead ends. Tennessee’s dream-like drama focuses on Celeste and Trinket, two very needy ladies who feud and fulminate on December 24th at the ramshackle Silver Dollar Hotel. Williams—and Dado—populate this French Quarter fleabag with the detritus, flotsam, jetsam and walking wounded of a misfit mise-en-scene.

Jennifer Engstrom, Mierka Girten and Lance Baker in Tennessee Williams' MUTILATED at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

A repository of unprocessed “longings,” Celeste–alias “Agnes Jones” (Jennifer Engstrom)–is a blowsy, boozing broad straight out of jail. A born-again kleptomaniac, she wants shelter from her storms in the ostentatiously decorated rooms of hard-drinking, goodtime girl Trinket (Mierka Girten). Celeste is aware of Trinket’s secret shame—that she bears an unseen (and unexplained) “mutilation” of the soul or skin that Trinket (what a wonderfully appropriate name!) badly wants hidden from the sailors she seduces. What both religious nutcases need is a “miracle” on Christmas Eve, so the apparent apparition of the Virgin Mary, among other “invisible presences,” will do just fine.

Williams surrounds the raucous rivalry of these battered goddesses–a dysfunctional duo to rival headliners Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago–with an incense-scented rogues’ gallery of life’s losers: hookers, cops, grifters, Carnival celebrants, overdressed zombies, and musicians playing slinky songs. Their ranks include Chicago’s finest thespian artistes, including Doug Vickers, Shade Murray, Lance Baker as a hard-boiled hotel clerk, Steve Haggard as a sailor slob, and Natalie West as the self-evident Bird Girl. They keep crooning the anthem “A Miracle” (composed by the wonderfully named Brando Triantafillou) until it really happens. Or did it? As “Fats” Waller said, “One never knows—do one?”

Jennifer Engstrom & Mierka Girten in Tennessee Williams' MUTILATED at A Red Orchid Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Somebody dies at a sordid saloon–you’re not sure you imagined it along with the denizens. The opposite of Hester Prynne, Trinket and her fierce fear of exposure is a set of symptoms in search of a disease. A poor man’s Blanche DuBois, Celeste, “lost but not found,” switched pride for survival long ago. Much here makes no sense to any fully functioning cerebral cortex. That’s exactly why this magical mojo feels so inebriating. You stagger out of this show, wondering who slipped you a Mickey.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Mutilated
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave
Thurs – Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on February 28, 2016
for tickets, call 312.943.8722 or visit A Red Orchid

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

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