Something Wild, Ken Schatz's intimate thrust staging of a trio of early Tennessee Williams one-acts now being presented by the young company Pook's Hill at the Abingdon Theater makes for a deeply moving evening of raw theater.
The plays in some ways feel like sketches of A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche DuBois at different stages of her life. In 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, Flora Meighan (Samantha Steinmetz) is torn between her loyalty to her crass, overweight and more than slightly abusive husband, Jake (Jack Haley), whose brain farts include gems such as "women aren't supposed to have thoughts; that's a man's job."
Unfortunately for the dimwitted cotton-gin farm owner, he's not up for the job. When he commits arson to get ahead of the competition, he invites the attention of the plantation superintendent, Silva Viccaro (Brian Gianci) who takes a liking to Flora, who has Blanche's helplessness when it comes to men. It's hard to gauge if she's just a pawn for his desire or a willing participant and Steinmetz and Gianci play the tension with a piercing subtlety.
In terms of story, not a lot happens in the work, but desperation and desire run through the play while the social politics of racism and sexism hang like the heavy Mississippi humidity.
The next piece in the lineup, Hello From Bertha hits a more consistently somber note. Set in a rundown whorehouse, it focuses on the sick and aging title character (Andrus Nichols), who has been given an ultimatum by madam Goldie (Vivienne Leheny): to go back to work or be institutionalized. Bertha lies in bed paralyzed by the failure of her life and haunted by the empty promises of less-than-gentleman callers. It's moving to an extent, but like its namesake, doesn't really have anywhere to go.
The final one-act, This Property is Condemned, is a vivid two hander focusing on a young orphaned girl, Willie (Tess Frazer) who carries the memory of her dead sister as well as her fancy-but-now-faded clothes and jewelry as she walks back and forth on an old railroad track endlessly.
The property in the title refers to her house and as she tells an interested boy around her age, Tom (David Armanino), "This property is condemned but there's nothing wrong with it." Spoken with a slight speech impediment by Frazer, the line is devastating and embodies the helplessness felt not just by her, but by all of Williams' women in these intriguing works.
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