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Play review: Tennessee Williams One Act Plays

TWilliams

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Lily, played by Anna Lamadrid, listens to her mother’s voice in “Why Do You Smke So Much, Lily?”

Photo by Jessie Kim

“Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life,” wrote famous playwright Tennessee Williams. Rightly so, then, that the plays for which Williams is famous are filled with powerful emotion and raw human interaction. UW Drama has decided to tackle a collection of the playwright’s one-act plays for its last performance of the school year. Thankfully, the actors show high levels of enthusiasm for Williams’ work and deliver a stunning performance that will leave audiences emotionally moved. 

UW Drama has used the plays to highlight the strong skills of its students; no flashy sets needed here. The show is being performed in the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre, a small and intimate space with a circular stage. UW Drama uses the space well, and beautifully crafted costumes make more of an impact than the meager set. The plays showcase four or five actors who each play multiple roles, and their performances all seem to improve as the night carries on.

The series of one-act plays is an ingenious way to showcase a few performers and their extreme strengths and ranges. Many of the actors do an especially commendable job relaying information and emotion through their eyes and facial expressions. In his monologue from “The Night of Iguana,” Christopher Donoghue walks onto the stage, his eyes frantic and searching. Likewise, both Anna Lamadrid and Sunam Ellis punctuate each role they play with vivid eyes that speak as loud as their well-delivered lines. 

The real star of the night, however, is “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen.” Living in Seattle with the ever-present rain makes this scene hit very close to home. The scene involves only two players, called “Woman” and “Man.” Woman is played by Ellis, and man, does she ever deliver. Her monologue is rife with desperation and longing. This is perhaps Ellis’ strongest performance of the night. The audience is immediately carried into Woman’s hopes and dreams for the future, while at the same time, the sticky situation of her present is made all too clear. Furthermore, the chemistry between Ellis and Jon-Erik Hegstad, who plays Man, is perfection. Somehow they are able to capture and present a chemistry that contains both severe sadness and extreme desire. 

While some lines could be delivered with a little more punch, the main actors do a stellar job tackling the difficult roles. At times, it is difficult to believe they are students and not full-blown professionals. When Joseph Ngo performs a monologue from Williams’ breakthrough play “The Glass Menagerie,” he does it with the same passion and finesse as Ben Huber in the Seattle Repertory’s production from 2012. 

The downside of presenting so many short scenes is that the audience may feel a bit lost at times, considering the scenes fade in and out of each other, without much explanation or pause. The plays do not necessarily connect in any way, and at one point it is very unclear that the next scene performed is actually in an entirely new piece. But despite this confusion, audience members are still able to enjoy the talent presented in the various monologues and scenes. The roles the actors play give them an adequate opportunity to present Williams’ strong emotions in their raw glory.

The verdict: Although difficult to follow at times, the Tennessee Williams One Act Plays provide professional-grade performances by the UW’s own talented students.

Reach reporter Danielle Palmer-Friedman at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @DanyellPF

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