Playwright Tennessee Williams wrote many short plays during his life, and three of them have been selected by Step by Step Productions and Simple Life Productions to be performed under the title The Wild At Heart (taken from the Williams quote “A Prayer for the Wild of Heart That are Kept in Cages”). For these three Tennessee Williams shorts, Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, a venue I’d never visited before, decked itself out as a speakeasy with cabaret tables and cocktails. All this added to the atmosphere when the audience descended into the basement, where we enjoyed three plays bookended by terrific tunes performed by a talented jazz band.
The first piece has the best title: A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot (1958) focuses on two friends, Bessie (Jenny Lara) and Flora (Anna Wrang), on a night out in St Louis. They are looking for “diversion” and we get the sense that this is not the first time they have been out looking for the company of men. As the two friends wait, they discuss a number of topics including skincare, hairstyles, clothes and self-image. They can be bitchy, but the talk is the kind you might hear among particularly familiar female friends. On the surface the play is very funny, but on a more serious note you can sense the undertone of insecurity behind Bessie and Flora’s behaviour, and I found myself wondering what would become of them later in life.
The second play, Hello From Bertha (1946), is set in a brothel and we see that one of the prostitutes, Bertha (Vala Fannel), is very sick, unable to work, and about to be evicted. Goldie (Lizeth Ribo), who runs the house, suggests that Bertha contact an old flame, Charlie, to ask for help, but in her pride the sick woman refuses to do so. This play is incredibly poignant, as we sense that the time Bertha spent with Charlie was the happiest in her life, yet for various reasons she will not contact him. Fannel’s performance for me was the standout of the evening, making for uncomfortable (but entirely worthwhile) viewing.
Finally, Portrait Of A Madonna (1944) is about an elderly spinster, Ms. Lucretia Collins (Maya Lindh), who has lived alone for many years. An old-fashioned “lady of the South”, she is pious and respectable, but now her insistence that her former beau visits her regularly to “indulge his senses” suggests that she is mentally ill. Lindh gives a hugely poignant performance, establishing the old lady’s dignity even as she reveals her secret desires and mental state. In some ways similar to Blanche DuBois, Ms. Collins is taken away to an institution, leaving behind her home with all its memories.
All of these plays are about women who don’t conform to what society expects of them. They are alternately amusing, sympathetic, pitiable and dignified. The choice of plays works well and the cast do an extremely creditable job. Recommended.