212 E. Long Ave., New Castle
NEW CASTLE, Pa.
Director Lester Malizia always seems to have an ace in the hole when tackling Tennessee Williams in the New Castle Playhouse’s Annex Theater. Last summer, Scott Mackenzie’s brilliant, blistering Big Daddy in Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” single-handedly made that otherwise uneven Malizia production a must-see event.
In “The Rose Tattoo,” Malizia’s latest Williams’ revival, it’s Paula Ferguson’s ineffable portrayal of Serafina that stops your heart and makes you sit up in your seat at full attention. There’s a lot wrong with NCP’s “Tattoo” (an inadequate Alvaro for starters), but it’s hard to grouse whenever Ferguson is heating up the stage with her thesping pyrotechnics. Kudos to Malizia for once again pulling a rabbit — or in this case, a truly memorable Serafina — out of his bag of theatrical tricks.
Williams is an interesting case. Although justly considered one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century, Williams’ strengths (the poetic, often flowery language; the defiantly old-fashioned three-act structure) are precisely the qualities that make so much of his work seem dated, even creaky, to contemporary audiences.
“The Rose Tattoo” is, in many respects, “Williams Lite.” It’s probably the closest the “Streetcar Named Desire”/“Glass Menagerie” dramatist ever came to writing a traditional romantic comedy. And any self- respecting revival of “Tattoo” had darn well better cast a Serafina and Alvaro you want to see live happily ever after.
Malizia gets it half right. If Ferguson makes her grieving, widowed Sicilian immigrant/single mom the vibrant, throbbing lifeforce of this particular “Tattoo,” Jesse Pomerico’s Alvaro seems to be on an entirely different page. Besides a wildly fluctuating accent that switches from cartoonishly broad Italian to equally exaggerated Southern in a single swatch of dialogue, Pomerico seems to be channeling the Vinnie Barbarino-era John Travolta for much of the play. Pomerico is a charming, good-looking kid, and he would probably be fine in the appropriate role. But tormented Williams’ protagonists (Pomerico also played Brick in Malizia’s “Tin Roof”) are clearly out of his comfort zone. That casting disparity tends to throw the entire production off balance.
There are, however, copious dividends to insure that the marvelous Ferguson isn’t the sole reason to make the drive to New Castle. Although she looks more Irish than Italian, the lovely Corina Dougherty is immensely winning as Serafina’s love-struck 17-year-old-daughter, Rosa. Dougherty’s father, NCP regular Dave Dougherty, does a nice job as family priest Father De Leo, and Helen Marie Gould and Renee Cuerden earn copious laughs as hot-to-trot neighbors. I also enjoyed a sly, supporting turn by the redoubtable Molly Galano, even if Galano’s Assunta seems more Romanian gypsy lady (think Maria Ouspenskaya) than Italian immigrant living on the Gulf Coast between Mobile and New Orleans.
The attractive set (by Malizia and Ferguson) and costumes (Peggy Hanna did the honors) do a nice job of establishing the post-World War II period. Less pleasing, however, were two intermissions that serve only to elongate an already lengthy evening. Yet, considering the dearth of strong female roles in community theater these days, a little discomfort is a small price to pay for the privilege of regaling in Ferguson’s beguiling star turn.