Writer: Tennessee Williams
Director: Bairbre Ni Chaoimh
Reviewer: Sarah Hoover
“I will lie here and listen”: Daniel Monaghan’s line in the second of the Tennessee Williams double-bill is an appropriate instruction to the audience as we peer into the sweltering intimacy of This Property is Condemned and Talk to me like the Rain and Let Me Listen…”. This is the intimacy of realism, of double-handers, and of the theatre space as well, and the transforming set of Seamus O’Rourke and scenic artist Sandra Butler effectively draws us in to both, very different, shorts.
Tennessee Williams writes the American South of the early to mid 20th Century, and it is hot. Hot as in too warm to move, too warm to care, too warm to do anything but dream and sometimes despair. Williams provides insight into the lives of people for whom the American dream has long been outside their imaginings, particularly for his female characters who are trapped into a way of life which leaves them little scope for action and only scraps of dignity. Instead they dream of railroad men for beaus and cool breezes in a hotel where they have “no friends, not even acquaintances; no responsibilities, no demands.” The alternation of dreams and despair in these two short plays draws the audience deeply into the lives of its characters, but the intimate realism requires a delicate touch on the part of director Ni Chaoimh and her cast. Fortunately, they are up to the task.
The selection of these two shorts is a strong choice. In the first, This Property is Condemned, Monaghan sings us into an abandoned railway switch somewhere in the dust bowl. His childish demeanour is matched by Maria Guiver, who appears in her older sister’s flapper gown and red lipstick, carrying her ‘crazy doll’ and in plaits. They are on the cusp of adulthood and Guiver’s character reveals her own steps towards sexual awakening through memories of her sister. Both actors carry the childishness well, working through the awkwardness of teenagers in a culture without space for adolescence or time to instruct them on adulthood.
In the second, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen…, Monaghan alters the amazing set and his vocal and physical character with sensitivity, introducing us into the heavy atmosphere of a city apartment. Here Guiver shines as she never allows the tension of the scene to drop even as she carries its varied emotional content. Monaghan succeeds in the difficult task of giving attention, reacting honestly to her grief and desperation, while not taking focus but instead adding to the complexity of what is essentially a storytelling session.
The best productions of Tennessee Williams incorporate the heat of his writing and the slow, solemn flaying of his characters alive. It is difficult and beautiful to watch – and these productions carry that attitude softly in to the intimate space.
Runs until 9 September 2017 | Image: Tomasz-Olejnik.com