Despite its unwieldy title, I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays is a tightly-crafted one-acter, well worth pulling out of the bottom drawer. The big question with an unperformed play by someone as eminent as Tennessee Williams is why it has never seen the light of day before but it’s pleasing to report that the answer isn’t the obvious one.
The framework of fourth-wall-busting play-within-a-play seems more theatrical navel-gazing than Pirandello and there’s a parodic feel to the piece, with a Blanche-like mental collapse threatened and a gentlemen caller literally waiting in the wings. At 70 minutes, it’s like a sketch in the style of an old master and only occasionally betrays its pedigree with some sparkling dialogue.
The interjections of director and playwright into the action make it difficult for us to immerse ourselves in the onstage story of Yankee lady and Southern stud, who act out a fairly standard Williams story of sultry conflict and aggressive vulnerability.
There’s a constant expectation of further interruption and it’s to the actors’ credit, that we relax enough to feel for their plight. Shelley Lang, in particular, skillfully dips in and out of character and still manages to involve and move us. Lewis Hayes’s strip-show beefcake, swapping Stanley Kowalski’s Y-shirt for a flesh-coloured thong, sets off her stormy fragility nicely.
Perhaps the lack of a proposed production when Williams wrote the play in 1973 freed him from the constraints that plagued his playwriting life, and he certainly gives us some racy action and suggestive language. It doesn’t altogether help him; like Terence Rattigan, he thrived on repressed emotion and the need to codify and play his cards close to his chest gave his major works an added piquancy.
The freedom from pleasing investors and censors allowed the playwright to have some fun, though, with a drunken, domineering writer (Keith Myers looking like a cross between Williams and a seedy Stephen Sondheim), a temperamental director (Cameron Harris) and even flouncier would-be actor (Graham Dickson), slumming it as a frustrated stage manager.
Director Hamish MacDougall handles well the incongruous elements of playful playmaking and intense Vieux Carré tragedy. I Never Get Dressed may not have much of a life beyond this pub run but it’s a worthy salute to the great playwright on his centenary.