The Art Deco-inspired Grange Holburn Hotel provides the backdrop for an intriguing staging of three of Tennessee Williams’ late one-act plays. Each of them was written during the last thirteen years of his life, between 1970 and 1983, when he was living out of a suitcase, moving from hotel to hotel. Critics savaged most of the works which made it to the stage during this period and several productions closed early as a result. These three plays, while less experimental than some of the others written during that time, traverse Williams’ favoured themes of sexual jealousy, confining gender roles and the melancholy brought on by ageing.
The material is at times flimsy but the production salvages things and the plays are given weight. Green Eyes, which has been performed in hotel rooms in most of its recent revivals, reaps the least from the site-specific staging. While it’s involving being in such close proximity to the performers, the play wouldn’t be any less tense or moving if this were not the case. Clare Latham and Matt Milne play the honeymooning newlyweds who realise that their hasty marriage is built on nothing but a mutually destructive sexual passion. Barely dressed, both figures are lumpen in their fleshiness, lolling in bed, attending to bodily functions, thinking only of their empty stomachs.
The boy laconically demands to know why her back is covered in scratches, with the girl eventually revealing that she had the best sex of her life the preceding night with a green eyed stranger. She is now chronically dissatisfied with her new husband – a situation not helped by his imminent conscription to the Vietnam War. The actors’ stylized stilted Southern accents slow down the pace and make the eruptions of physical violence in the small space seem balletic. It’s also unclear whether the new bride is just fantasising with her obsessive talk of ‘green eyes’, accentuating the nightmareish feel of the morning after. If you ignore the the crude plot devices – a condom in the toilet, telling bruises – it works as a powerful immersive snapshot of a doomed relationship.
The latest of the three plays is sandwiched in the middle. The Travelling Companion feels very contemporary, despite its references to Studio 54. While Williams seemed to hint at the darkly transactional nature of heterosexual relationships in Green Eyes, he inverts this here with the two central characters staunchly building up defenses against each other. John Guerrasio’s Vieux is an alcoholic writer who hires the boyish Beau (Laurence Dobiesz) to travel to New York with him. On seeing the double bed in the hotel room, Beau claims he’s been lured under false pretences – though we discover he is no more himself asserting his heterosexuality than Vieux is, being jocular and carefree. Guerrasio is engaging from his first appearance, overloaded with luggage, and dressed out of season in a garish shirt. Beau’s malleability is a good counterpoint, with Dobiesz’s subtle sensitive performance allowing the better written character to take centre-stage.
Of the three plays, Sunburst has the most conventional climax, the weakness of which makes it feel slighter than the other, more impressionistic plays. Carol Macready gamely takes on the role of invalid and former stage star Miss Sylvia Sails, who finds herself dependent on hotel staff for her daily comfort. Despite her ill-health, she dominates the room, resembling a giant collapsed cake in her old-fashioned white gown. The eponymous diamond on her finger proves too tempting for bell-boy Giuseppe (Charlie Hollway), who plots to take it so he can run away with his lover Luigi (Josh Silver). It’s the warmest depiction of any relationship in the plays, as the two panic and then bungle their plans altogether by falling asleep on each other. However, this sentimentality is countered by the matter-of-fact black humour which sees them casually discussing ways to potentially dispose of Miss Sails’ body. The neat trick ending, which connects the play with the other two through the recurring presence of an unnamed bellboy played by Royce Pierrson, is far too pat.
Directed by Robert Hastie, this last play feels as much an of antique curio as the decorative props in the room. It’s good fun but the previous two pieces are more memorable and make the case for reviving Williams’ non-canonical works.