Story posted September 09, 2009
Davis Robinson has never been one to shy away from a cultural giant.
In addition to original scripts, his Boston-based Beau Jest theater company has recast such iconic works as Ubu Roi, War of the Worlds—and even the classic Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai.
The inventive ensemble of movement-based theater artists is now turning to one of the most iconic playwrights of the 20th century—Tennessee Williams.
This time, however, it's a first take. They are staging the world premiere of Williams' one-act play, The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame LeMonde, September 18-19, 2009, at the Charlestown Working Theater in Boston. It also will be a featured work in the prestigious Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Sept. 25-27, 2009.
"It's been wonderful to take a piece that is more experimental than what most people know him for and be able to sink your teeth into it," notes Robinson, Bowdoin associate professor of theater. "It's passionate and precise and there are autobiographical details. Tennessee Williams had reams of these short plays that people are just starting to discover."
Many of his late plays, which Williams wrote during the increased effects of depression and alcoholism, contain dicey subject matter and raw language—which may account, in part, for their relative rarity of production. The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame LeMonde is no exception.
The plot centers around a mysteriously paralyzed man named Mint, who maneuvers around his attic room at Madame LeMonde's by swinging from hooks in the rafters. A visit from an old school chum turns from torment to desperation to humor, when his friend hangs him on a hook by the door out of reach. Sex becomes a bargaining chip in the plot, which includes a small assortment of grotesque characters, including Madame LeMonde, whom Williams described as "a rather globular woman with a fiery red mop of hair that suggests a nuclear explosion."
In the lead role as Mint is Bowdoin alumnus Jordan Harrison '04, who previously appeared in Beau Jest's production of Samurai 7.0. (Read story.)
Although critics hailed Williams' treatment of compelling, contradictory characters in earlier plays, such as The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, they dismissed his later work as irrelevant. In program notes for The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame LeMonde, Robinson argues that when viewed in their autobiographical context, "they show a poetic titan's search for finality and closure fed by a sly sense of humor."
"We can see in this play the effects of his painful alienation from old friends," writes Robinson, "the battle for control of his estate by Lady Maria St. Just, his awareness of his physical world shutting down.
"Tennessee wanted to provoke and disturb people on his way out."
The Remarkable Rooming House was published privately by a small press in 1983, the year of Williams' death. It recently was reprinted in a collection of late Tennessee Williams one-acts titled, The Traveling Companion & Other Plays (New Directions 2008).
View an in-depth interview with Davis Robinson about this world premiere production.