Something Cloudy, Something Clear, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, and A Triple Shot of Williams | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Something Cloudy, Something Clear, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, and A Triple Shot of Williams 

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SOMETHING CLOUDY, SOMETHING CLEAR, 27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON, and A TRIPLE SHOT OF WILLIAMS, Bailiwick Repertory. When a Tennessee Williams play isn't done often, there's a reason. Bailiwick's three-show Williams festival stands as unfortunate proof of that. But one production suggests that these plays might just be waiting for the right interpreter.

It's 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, produced in conjunction with the Foreground Theater Company. This one-act begins creakily, as Jake sets fire to a neighboring plantation and bullies his wife, Flora, into covering for him. But once neighbor Silva arrives, Williams reveals what's really going on and the piece develops almost unbearable intensity. Director Allen Jeffrey Rein saw right into the play's heart and cast a Silva (Fred Warner) who has it--that amalgam of threat and sexuality required to portray Williams's men--and a Flora (Jill Henderlight) who makes the wife's victimization tragic instead of stupid. Frank Fowle undercuts Jake by playing him dumb: Jake gets his comeuppance because he's clever, just not as clever as he thinks.

The absence of it fatally flaws David Zak's production of Something Cloudy, Something Clear. It's a weak play to begin with, about a playwright's obsession with a young dancer, Kip. Jason Vizza is handsome and sweet in the role but hardly irresistible, so the obsession seems stupid instead of tragic, as does the tug-of-war for Kip's attention between playwright August (the intense Tom Arvetis) and Clare (Rebecca Prescott). Prescott's resemblance to Meryl Streep has the unfortunate effect of highlighting that she's not Meryl Streep, when it takes that caliber of actress to manage the vivid, erratic, self-destructive Williams woman.

The evening of one-acts--"A Triple Shot of Williams," done in association with the Harvest Moon Theatre Company and now closed--featured strong work from Jessica Schulte. As Willie in This Property Is Condemned, she masters a variant of the Williams woman, the determined innocent. The play itself, though, seems an outtake from Streetcar, with Stella left behind at Belle Reve mourning her sister's fate. As the Woman in Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen, Schulte makes her silence speak as she listens to promises and lies from the Man (Kevin Asselin); but the play goes nowhere, and dressing Asselin in an undershirt doesn't make him Marlon Brando. Auto-da-Fe knocks off the early scenes of The Glass Menagerie, with a slightly crazier son (Dennis Schnell) and a slightly saner mother (the able Janice Rothbaum). Director Christian Anderson has a good touch with actors, and Benjamin Munoz's guitar gives all the works more power.

The set for the festival includes platforms too high for the actors to negotiate comfortably, and every time they plunge off them in Something Cloudy we notice the bedsheet that's supposed to pass for sand. The giant picture frame surrounding August's work space is a poor imitation of the one in The Glass Menagerie--and that's the story of the entire festival.

--Kelly Kleiman

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