Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company
Adapted from the short stories of Tennessee Williams
Written by Elizabeth Egloff, Marcus Gardely, Rebecca Gilman, David Grimm, John Guare and Beth Henley.
Directed by David Miller
Review by Polly Goss
(Boston, MA) Desire is a haunting collection of six short stories adapted into one act plays, performed by the talented Zeitgeist Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts. This ensemble performance casts a spell over the audience, as we watch a symphony of tortured souls battling with their secret desires. A couple of the plays’ attempt to modernize Williams’ fiction falls short, but overall the cast perform these conflicted characters with real empathy and vigour. Desire provides a fascinating insight into the creative process of a literary master and is well worth a watch.
With a stripped back set, David Miller (director) artfully used the ensemble to create a new world for each play, with actors playing prominent objects as well as people. This was particularly effective in the first play, “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” when these inanimate objects seem to control the fate of the characters. Credit must also be given to Elizabeth Cole Sheehan (Costume Design), whose choice of costumes was effective in immediately framing each individual play within a clear timeframe and genre.
“The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin” and “You Lied to Me About Centralia” stood out for me in the performance, both deceptively simple stories that hint at the unspoken and forbidden lusts bubbling beneath the sheen of Southern society. The autobiographical voice of Williams is unmistakable in “You Lied to Me About Centralia”, adapted from his short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”, the inspiration behind The Glass Menagerie.
“The Field of Blue Children” ended the performance on a lighter note, as we watched Layley (Margaret Dransfield) reject her ‘mean-girls’ esque sorority and pursue the sweet and shy poetry major, Dylan (Jon Vellante). However the anachronistic references to “instagram” were awkward and jarred with the overall tone of the collection. Similarly “Attack of the Giant Worms” was difficult to place, which detracted from the narrative. The abrupt one-act format of these plays, meant that the most effective plays were those that instantly drew us into their world.
“Desire Quenched by Touch” was the most startling play within the collection and added a darker tone to the performance. The play tells the tale of the mystical black masseur Fountaine Le Grande (Damon Singletary), as he is interviewed by Detective Bacon (Alexander Rankine) about the missing white boy born, Anthony Burns (Sam Terry). Singletary’s rich baritones added a disturbingly hypnotic feel to this eerie tale. “Desire Quenched by Touch” truly encapsulated the collection’s central theme, our hidden desires go deeper than race, gender and perhaps even our humanity.
Overall Desire provides a fresh perspective on one of America’s most renowned playwrights. Tennessee Williams is a master of conveying human emotion and Desire is a further example of his profound insight into the lusts, fears and wants that make us human.