Playwright: Tennessee Williams . At: The Hypocrites at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St. Tickets: 773-525-5991; the-hypocrites.com; $28-36. Runs through: March 2
The Hypocrites are offering three times the Tennessee in a most intriguing combination of one-act plays by the incomparable Tennessee Williams. The artistic decision to pick these three of the numerous one-acts that Williams wrote between 1937 and 1982 is left almost entirely to the intellect, but making the connections is part of the fun.
Director Matt Hawkins ( Jeff Award winner for The Hypocrites' production of Cabaret ) has creatively designed an entire full-length play experience, which moves the audience through a series of three consecutive stages, each space carefully crafted and decorated. The one-acts are all stitched together in a metaphoric sort of way through one actor, Patrick Gannon, who takes on three different lead roles ( four if you count a gender change ) that have a kind of spiritual connection to each other.
The Tennessee Williams Project plays its best card first the Queen. The New Orleans-set And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens is both the longest and most engaging of the three, and centers on the story of a blossoming dysfunctional relationship that is no good for either character yet tragically sweet. "Candy" Delaney ( Gannon ) is a lonely transvestite landlord and interior decorator who seduces a sailor named Karl ( Joseph Wiens ) into being her "platonic" companion. Karl's apparent confusion about his own sexual identity along with his desperate financial situation makes this a volatile yet captivating relationship. Gannon is totally charming both in and out of drag, and the intimate configuration of the stage amplifies both the humor and the tension in his performance and in the entire play.
Part two moves into the bizarre with The Remarkable Rooming House of Mme. Le Monde. Gannon swaps a wig for a series of fastening devices to play Mint, a paraplegic living in the attic of the titular London rooming house, who gets around with only a series of rings and has a reputation for sexual misconduct. "Rooming House" could well be the most bizarre work of Williams' career. In fact, it wasn't produced until after his death. This play utilizes physicality, lighting and staging to its advantage, but doesn't last long enough for anything to settle in amidst its Little Shop of Horrors vibe. The similarly hopeless, lonely characters marred by cruel circumstances, do, however, allow it to effectively bridge the other plays.
The finale, The Big Game, is set in a hospital room and uses injury and medical misfortune as a way of exploring sad but profound ideas about dreams and purpose. Although devoid of dramatic conflict, it offers more of a range of interesting characters, namely Nurse Fussy ( Mary Redmon ), and provides a quiet change of pace, a chance to meditate a bit more on the entire experience.
And "experience" most aptly describes what Hawkins and The Hypocrites have done with this project. Although the order of the plays goes against typical three-act structure and doesn't satisfy in that sense, it does work logically in terms of communicating themes and ideas and linking the plays together. No matter: The Tennessee Williams Project will appeal to all types of theatergoers with its unique three-stage setup and certainly spur a number of conversations among Williams' fans both casual and well acquainted.