In Tennessee Williams: Weird Tales, a young boy spends a stormy night reading three of the playwright's one-act plays. Love, loss and pathos intertwine in a fantastical production presented by The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans at Metropolitan Community Church.
In the first play, Steps Must Be Gentle, poet Hart Crane (David Williams) lies in a bathtub at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Fifteen years earlier, Crane committed suicide by jumping off a boat, and now his mother Grace (Maggie Eldred) has contacted him via telephone to address their unresolved issues. Crane, born in 1899, had taken male lovers and his mother disapproved. Steps is an intense exploration of sexual repression and familial bonds. Williams gives the poet heartbreaking emotion in Tennessee Williams' account of Crane as a man who wanted to please his mother but never could. Eldred is outstanding as the simultaneously supportive and undercutting matriarch. Williams and Eldred are dynamic together, and Steps is the most fully realized and moving portion of Weird Tales.
In the second part, the world premiere of Ivan's Widow, the story's emotional reality doesn't materialize. A young woman referred to as She (Alexandra Kennon) deals with her husband's death by visiting a psychiatrist, He (John Giardina). Giardina is creepy and aggressive as he tries to take advantage of the young widow, whom Kennon plays with a mix of anxiety and fierceness. When she suffers a seizure, he administers a shot. They later have sex, and though the play seems to suggest the medicine influenced her consent, the work doesn't treat it as assault, which makes the story's emotional arc disconcerting.
In transitions between one-acts, the Boy (Andrew King) uses a flashlight to read the plays' titles and also adds context. These short snippets, written by director Augustin J. Correro, are charming, but the Boy's story is dropped, ultimately making them a distraction.
The show's final part, The Strange Play — also a world premiere — is delightful and bizarre. Isabel (Emily Russell) sits in a garden watched by an eccentric trio of collectors: Olga (Williams), Florence (Kennon) and an old woman (Eldred). The three wear nightgowns and make birdlike noises. Isabel is visited by John (Christopher Grim), who says they must restart the world. She gives birth to an adolescent son and is visited by the son from the future. The components initially seem disparate, but they come together in a surprisingly touching story.
Grim also designed the excellent sets, which transformed the church's small stage space into unique worlds for each segment.
This well-executed production, co-directed by Correro and Nick Shackleford, brings together iconic facets of the playwright's work, and the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company continues to present ambitious productions of Williams' lesser-known plays.