This is a play with an identity problem – previously overcome. Dedicated to Tennessee Williams’ partner, Frank Melo, inspired by a visit to the latter’s home in Sicily, it seems meant to celebrate the healing power of sex. The 1951 Broadway production won Tennessee Williams’ only Tony Award. When Anna Magnani (for whom it was written) played Delle Rose in the film, she managed to walk a fine line between pathos and comedy, winning an Academy Award.
Here, the usually bankable Marisa Tomei seems lightweight with the play’s serious notes. Two people near me fell asleep. By the time we get to Act II’s comic aspects, we’re confused.
Poignancy is nowhere to be found in Director Trip Cullman’s interpretation. This is compounded by children boisterously running through a great many scenes and a considerable amount of onstage singing (very pretty) in Italian. There are moments the play seems like a burgeoning musical. (Fitz Patton – Original Music/Sound Design) Additionally, the eventual salvation-manifesting relationship is depicted with exaggerated (funny) mime and parody-like accents.
Earthy Serafina Delle Rose (Marisa Tomei) lives along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile. She’s mad about and impressed by her handsome, truck driver husband who delivers bananas (on top) and drugs (hidden underneath) providing what appears to be a happy, stable future.
When he dies in a crash, Serafina unspools. A projected timeline tells us three years pass in this state. Retreating from life, the heroine resolutely completes sewing jobs, but leaves hair a birds nest and never goes out out. The only issue with protracted widowhood is denial the dead man was unfaithful with casino worker Estelle Hohengarten (Tina Benko). Meanwhile Daughter Rosa (Ella Rubin), peripheral to the story, indulges inherited quick lust with a sailor (Burke Swanson).
Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott) translates to “eat a horse,” who has the body of Seafina’s husband, but the (attractive) “head of a clown,” almost tumbles into her life. Equal parts braggadocio and tears, he mirrors Serafina’s own unhinged passions. Sparks fly.
Marisa Tomei’s thick Italianette accent finds her frustratingly unintelligible for a portion of the piece. Without balanced direction, we see only her skill with comedy. This is fair neither to the play nor the capable actress.
As love interest Mangiacavallo , Emun Elliott makes a delightful Broadway debut. The actor manifests great timing and palpable gusto, appearing to have fallen into a pot of honey.
Carolyn Mignini’s Assunta creates gravitas and naturalism.
The striking set (Mark Wendland) offers experience without boundaries, a wall-less beach home (replete with sand) whose Catholic shrine holds sway, flanked by what looks like hundreds of (plastic) flamingos. Love the telephone poles and wires (a nod to “The Glass Menagerie”?) Lucy Mackinnon’s wonderful sea and sky projection (changing with time of day/mood) and Ben Stanton’s lighting design work wonderfully in tandem. Environment contributes to lack of sobriety, however.
Clint Ramos’ costumes are spot-on.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Marisa Tomei
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Trip Cullman
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street
Through December 8, 2019