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Archive for the ‘Tim O’Connor’ Category

The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale

16 Apr

The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale — Directed by Stephen Porter. Romantic Drama. A Southern spinster sets her sights on the handsome boy next door. 1970’s/2002 Color 120 minutes.

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Tennessee Williams wrote this material four times, and his rewrites never solved the defects it presented. Samson Raphaelson said that while Williams was a much greater playwright than himself, if he had only fifteen minutes with Tennessee Williams he could have solved the problems of his plays, and he’s right. In this one, for instance, Williams writes a long closet or bedroom scene between the mother and John, but places it at the end of the play. The mother should not appear in the park, and it should be set, if at all, at the beginning of the play after the first scene between Alma and her father. This would invest the piece with the power of suspense, and build to the the seduction scene in Act III. Williams was a great playwright but not much of a craftsman. The essential problem of the play for an audience  is Alma, and the fact that, like Flora in Milktrain, Alma talks too much for an audience to care about. She is flibbertygibbet-boring.  But her tragedy is not that she has eccentricites or that she talks too much or is nervous or laughs oddly. Her problem is she has adopted these to make herself different from what she knows herself to be, which is normally sexed but maybe sexually unmateable. Adapting Eccentricities from From Summer And Smoke, Williams removed the rakes-hell boy next door and all the madness of The Moonlake Casino. But Rosa Gonzales and  little Nellie, while not subplots, at least gave the play something solid to bounce back from, and their light sheds upon the boy next door  the color of his vices. Wiliams replaced the rakes-hell with a nebbish. He replaced his righteous father with an incestuous mother. He replaced the melodrama with nothing. Alma got laid. But nothing improved. And nothing happened. The play declined in power and lost its great and brilliant and moving final scene in the doctor’s office. And in neither version is there is there a subplot, no secondary line of interest feeding the main matter, as there is between Stanley and Stella, for instance in Streetcar, or Mitch and Blanche, or between big Daddy and Brick in Cat, and in any Shakespearean play you might mention. What we have instead is two hours of  the rantings of a frustrated spinster and some voluble locals, and a mother who will not shut up, all of them molasses-Southern and rendered with Williams’ infallible ear, but none of them of sufficient dramatic or comic import to supply the deficiencies of a play which, being underwritten, ends up overwritten to compensate. The long bedroom scene at the end of the first part offers us nothing we do not already know from the mother’s merely taking her son’s arm at the fireworks display. Neva Patterson plays the mother here, a part written so it can only be played one way, witchy, which makes her character one-note-monotonous. It’s not Patterson’s fault, although she and all the players over-Southernize their accents, when Williams, by his diction alone, supplies all the accent needed. Summer and Smoke is certainly the better play, and Geraldine Page as Alma is superb in the role. Blythe Danner is an actress so inherently lovely it seems impossible she could remain a spinster, although she does supply a wince to regulate and demote her beauty and the neurasthenic affectations which make her annoying enough to make us think she is unmarriagable. But the part cannot work, because Williams has not got to the heart of it. Frank Langella brings his rich voice to the characterless part of the boy next door. Langella smiles affectionately throughout, a smart move, but it’s a dog’s-body of a part; here’s nothing there; and all one can do is thank him for not making more of a thankless role than can be made. Their losing their virginity together is a beautifully written scene and beautifully played, and worth the price of admission, but it shouldn’t be in the play. These two actors have played together many times on the stage, where I have seen them, and their high style is well suited to one another, and the respect for the talent and workings of one another make them look like Lunt and Fontanne. I love Tennessee Williams. And I love this material. Yes, as Hal Holbrook says in his introduction, it is different From Summer And Smoke. Different, yes. Better, no.

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