By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Eldred’s haggard Leona rampages about in a big knit cap and bohemian peasant top; though an exile from the repressive past, she cannot quite enjoy the freewheeling liberties of the love generation. Her situation reflects Williams’ own, for his early plays showed the way to a promising land that he himself would never feel at home in. Director Arton’s production is in tune with this paradox, and so, while David Raphel’s finely detailed set (analog-dial stereo receiver, Olympia beer poster) is not exactly the befogged, somewhat unreal locale envisioned by Williams, all the characters seem to drift in and out of an inner mist. (Or maybe it’s just the Oly.)
Eldred dominates the evening as the angry but forgiving apparition whom most of Monk’s patrons would rather ignore than listen to. She moves about the stage with a feline power that forces them to pay attention to her as she denounces Bill and grieves for her frail, artistic brother who passed away of anemia. It’s not easy for the other actors (along with some of the scenery) to avoid being eaten up by Eldred, but Smith holds his own, especially in the play’s closing moments, as the bar’s lonely shepherd of broken dreamers. Barden, who like Eldred originated his part in the New Orleans production, is another anchor in this ensemble, holding forth as the brandy-irrigated reprobate — a little too quick to grab his medicine bag and help patients who would be much better off without his ministrations.
The rest of the cast has to deal with underwritten parts. A cop (Justin Bowles) enters toward the end for a scant few lines and leaves, and John Fleck must make the most of the part of Steve, Violet’s occasional pal and a role that is long on looks and short of words. Fortunately, the design elements all snap neatly in place. Raphel’s bar, with its haunted, stuffed sailfish (an Evidence Room fixture), effortlessly summons any sandy dive along the coast (think Wilmington’s Harbor Lights or Santa Monica’s old Wind and Sea), and is moodily lit by Christopher Kuhl. Arton’s own sound design also captures the period as the stereo crackles with the Stones and Janis Joplin, although methinks the gay-unfriendly Monk may have had to borrow Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” from the playwright’s music collection.
Sometimes slow, sometimes abrupt, Small Craft Warningsis more an invitation than a caution, a chance to reflect on the quicksilver flow of life and the melancholy career of Tennessee Williams.
“Everyone needs one beautiful thing,” Leona says, a sentiment that may well have been its author’s first article of faith.SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS | By TENNESSEE WILLIAMS MESA Production Co. at the EVIDENCE ROOM, 2220 Beverly Blvd.; (213) 381-7118 | Through September 7