In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 2, 2007
Time has finally caught up with Tennessee Williams's long-neglected play, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. Initially reviled at its 1969 debut for what many considered its avant-garde and impenetrable text, the play comes across as positively quaint now—and, surprisingly fresh: In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel feels as if it could have been written by one of today's countless indie theater playwrights. The theatrical experiments of Williams's day have become the mainstream norm now, and White Horse Theater Company's current revival of Tokyo Hotel gives it a welcome new lease on life.
The setting is a bar in an unnamed Tokyo hotel, where a past-her-prime American woman named Miriam shamelessly flirts with the Bar-Man. She watches him through her compact mirror until he becomes so uncomfortable that he walks around to the front of the bar, with his back turned to her. When he tells her that he's engaged and faithful, she replies, "A terrible mistake. For marriage, some preliminary instruction is necessary." Finally, he admits that he's afraid to serve Miriam because, as he puts it, "When I come to your table you place your hand improperly on my body." She sure does. But, even though the Bar-Man shuns her every advance, Miriam will not relent...that is, until her husband shows up.
That's right: her husband. His name is Mark, and he's a painter; apparently, a very talented and respected one. But, he's in the middle of a complete nervous breakdown. Toiling away on a new technique (he claims he's invented color for the very first time), Mark only emerges from his room for an occasional drink in the hotel bar. The stress of fulfilling his vision is taking its toll, and he is suffering both a physical and spiritual dissolution, as evidenced by this passage:
MARK: I've understood the intimacy that should, that has to exist between the, the—painter and the—I! It! Now it turned to me, or I turned to it, no division between us at all anymore! The oneness, the!
Miriam encourages Mark to get a tape recorder so he can preserve his "delirious ravings. Play them back to yourself and you might be as shocked as I am by the."
As you can see, these people don't finish their sentences. Williams makes this the structural hallmark of Tokyo Hotel, and back when it premiered, it angered quite a few people. But, in this current revival, it couldn't feel more natural, especially since this device is merely a reflection of the way people talk every day. Director Cyndy A. Marion and cast members Laura Siner (Miriam) and Niall O'Hegarty (Mark) do a wonderful job of filling the silences with enough meaning and clarity that finishing those sentences would be redundant.
Other splendid touches are Marion and Toshiji Takeshima's handling of the Bar-Man's endearing professional courtesy. He is so diplomatically tolerant of Miriam, despite his discomfort around her, that he could teach Emily Post a thing or two. And, O'Hegarty's physical manifestation of Mark's mental collapse, a violent case of the shakes, is frighteningly authentic.
Tokyo Hotel is typical Williams in many ways. It contains his trademark compassion for societal underdogs, as well as another vivid portrait of unbridled sexuality. Miriam and Mark are a fine addition to the author's patented collection of mismatched couples. And, while the high-flying poetic oratory of his most famous works may be absent, there are still enough pointed observations—"Misfortunes do not attract me"; "Pretension is the unpardonable offense"; "She looks like a three-masted schooner today, billowing out of the harbor"—to demonstrate the author's idiosyncratic outlook in full swing.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is a detailed, delicate look at a couple going through the precarious final stages of their marriage. White Horse Theater Company's well-acted, well-directed production hits the emotional highs and lows of that journey, and shows theatergoers yet again that second-rate Williams is better than most other writers' Grade A stuff.