Few roles require an actor to express the full range of human emotions, but Serafina delle Rose (Lillian J. Small), the central character of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo, explores the entire spectrum of misery, anger, jealousy, fear, lust, madness and eventual joy. During her masterful, more-than-two-hour performance, Small never leaves the stage as her character cycles through profound stages of grief after learning her husband Rosario was killed in a traffic accident. Coincidentally, Serafina discovers he may have been unfaithful, a crushing blow that threatens her sanity. Like many Williams characters, she struggles with depression and alcohol abuse, but her evolution is uplifting.
The Rose Tattoo, presented at Dillard University's Samuel DuBois Cook Theatre, is the first production in the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans' second season, and it features outstanding performances and direction and significant technical skill. A relatively large cast, evocative set and effective sound design elicit the atmosphere of a small coastal community populated with characters including a mad woman, town gossips and farm animals.
Written in 1950, The Rose Tattoo — which won a Tony Award for best play — depicts an immigrant family living on the Mississippi coast. New Orleans' huge Sicilian population during the period, as well as Williams' Sicilian romantic partner Frank Merlo, inspired the play. Credible Sicilian accents and authentic mannerisms, including animated gesticulations, amplify Williams' dialogue, creating delightful and unexpected moments.
Seated onstage within a few feet of the actors, the audience is engulfed in sensations of heat, humidity and religious superstition. Cicadas chirp as Serafina's daughter Rosa captures lightning bugs in a jar.
Newly pregnant, Serafina is passionately in love with her husband Rosario, whose chest bears a tattooed image of a rose. Serafina is making dresses for the town's high school graduation, including one for Rosa, when a mysterious woman, Estelle Hohengarten (Destani Smith), arrives to request a coral-colored silk shirt for her "wild" lover, whose measurements happen to match Rosario's.
"A man that's wild is hard for a woman to hold, but if he was tame, would the woman want to hold him?" Estelle rhetorically asks Serafina.
Pushing the limits of the modern attention span, this production of The Rose Tattoo, directed by company co-artistic director Augustin J. Correro, sustains the imagination. Serafina's friend Assunta (Mary Pauley), parish priest Father de Leo (Michael Sullivan), Peppina (Rachel Ridgeway), Rosa (Linnea Gregg), Rosa's boyfriend Jack Hunter (Matthew Raetz) and even the goat (Erin Cessna) continually react to Serafina's emotional chaos, resulting in the choreographed dynamism of an array of strong performances.
Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Mike Spara), a banana truck driver run off the road, is just the tonic Serafina needs — passionate, impulsive and not just a little bit wild.
The Rose Tattoo is a theatrical experience not to be missed, providing a flavor of New Orleans' rich cultural history in the artistic vein of Williams.