Play: 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, and I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow
Group: Soundstage Productions
Venue: Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.
Dates: June 26, 27, 28
Tickets: $12; contact 314-968-8070 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Stories: Two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams are the focus of this brief (90 minutes) program presented by readers’ theater company Soundstage Productions. In 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, set in the 1930s, an unscrupulous Mississippi cotton gin owner torches a rival’s mill. While the mill’s owner can’t prove the act of arson, he takes out revenge by seducing the culprit’s young and naïve wife. In I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow, a physically failing but fiercely independent woman befriends a lonely teacher who struggles to overcome his speech impediment and his overly shy nature with her guidance.
Highlights: Soundstage Productions utilizes visual projections to complement its performers, who provide varying degrees of staged readings in the company’s works. With its players dressed in black and presenting their stories on spartan sets with rudimentary lighting, the emphasis is on the spoken word.
Other Info: That puts the onus on the actors and director. In the case of these two one-act works by Williams, director David Bornholdt’s reach seems to exceed his grasp. Even with reader’s theater it’s difficult to envision Betsy Gasoske as the frail young wife of an oafish husband who is supposedly much older than her, which is not the case with actor Carl Overly Jr. Additionally, Matt Kemmerer just doesn’t convey the motivation of revenge as the victimized neighbor. Furthermore, while the accompanying slides are effective with visions of a fiery blaze, for example, others, such as the word “slap” shown when Overly’s character strikes his wife while forcing her to become part of his alibi, just seem silly and superfluous.
Carmen Larimore Russell and Larry Zerega play the characters in I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow, named One and Two to speak to their sad anonymity. Here the slides add a bit more to the presentation, but empathy for the characters is defeated by the production’s tortuous pace and indecision in the performances.
Both works are more theatrical exercises (the latter was written as a teleplay) than accomplished storytelling, and the results in this production are ultimately disappointing.
Rating: A 2 on a scale of 1-to-5.