Mortal Ladies Possessed
nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
May 17, 2005
Mortal Ladies Possessed, an adaptation of a number of Tennessee Williams short stories, hodgepodged into a one-woman show for the actress Linda Marlowe, is untidy but not entirely unengaging. Simply put, it’s hard to follow what’s going on.
Adaptor Matthew Hurt has selected interesting and underexplored source material—the Williams’s stories concerned include “The Coming of Something to Widow Holly,” “The Interval,” “Man Bring Up This Road,” “In Memory of an Aristocrat,” and “Oriflamme”— but said material has been left as it was found: interesting and underexplored.
I gather that the meta-story concerns Widow Holly and her reflections about the various women who have breezed and busted through her boarding house: desperate, distraught, and eccentric ladies, chasing the men who haven’t made good on their promises, who have abandoned them. The most involving of these stories is “The Interval,” in which a woman named Gretchen meets on Laguna Beach a young Hollywood hopeful, who’s certain to be “as big as Cary Grant. Bigger.” Not surprisingly, she starts supporting him emotionally and financially, sending him to New York, joining him to meet all his new male friends who “all talk and act like they’re in a drawing room comedy,” reveals that she is pregnant, and is summarily dumped.
It is Williams’s language that makes such stories meaningful and Hurt understands that, but he seems to use only three techniques to try to make the prose theatrical: recorded voices overheard by the Widow, direct address to the audience, and responses to imaginary scene partners. Thus the script already relies a great deal on the interpretive artists to make this an exciting watch.
Director Stuart Mullins and actress Marlowe seem more invested in making this a tour-de-force than in helping the audience understand a) what we are watching and b) why. Marlowe is clearly brimming with passion and ability, but stops short of being captivating by a muddy Southern accent that can only be described as Scottish, and her physicality communicates two qualities: old and young. Mullins might have helped her develop more distinct (and accurate) voices and physical characterizations. He also could have made better use of the black box theatre, making some bolder staging choices to further delineate time and place.
Set designer Rachana Jadhav’s one notable set piece—a wooden frame on wheels with a full-length shade—is sometimes used as a closed door, sometimes as an open door, and sometimes Marlowe turns the frame so it pivots on its stand and lies flat like a surfboard or an examination table, but I can’t figure out why she does that. Phil Hewitt's lighting and Simon McCorry’s sound are serviceable, but feel similarly unguided.
Mortal Ladies Possessed, part of the Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59, may not be “the best in new British theatre” but at least it keeps us acquainted with the considerable talents of Marlowe and introduces us to some unfamiliar short stories by Williams that are indeed worthy of further exploration.