Part of the pleasure of the Fringe Festival for me lies in the peculiarity and particularity of the venues, that inspired matching of play to place. IRC’s gorgeous and exciting production of Tennessee Williams’s THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE is brilliantly located in The Bethany Mission Gallery, a private museum crammed with outsider art. Everywhere you look is evidence of eccentricities.
It’s worth noting (and rejoicing in) producing artistic director Tina Brock’s decision to choose a play outside the classic absurdist canon, a canon that Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium has been mining for many years. Williams’s play fits the absurdist spirit if not the absurdist structure, and opens the notion of absurdity to the wide world of narrative plays about the absurdist nature of our lives. Much to look forward to.
ECCENTRICITIES is lush, loquacious and very typical Williams: lonely, sex-starved women, men struggling against overbearing mothers, desperation everywhere. We’re in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, and Miss Alma (the superb Tina Brock in a knockout performance) is the town’s oddball old maid; she feeds the birds, she makes extravagant gestures, she teaches singing: as she puts it she is “guilty of gilding the lily.” Daughter of the Reverend (Thomas Dura) and the unhinged Grace (Jane Moore), she is in love with John Buchanan, Jr (the excellent Jon Zak), a physician who comes home for the holidays—July 4th, then Christmas, then New Year’s Eve. His mother (Carol Florence) represents everything Williams feared and despised: the judgmental rich who live life by smug standards, a world of people who are intolerant and cruel.
The cast is rounded out with a bunch of suitably eccentric-looking actors, playing a variety of roles and instruments, although the most revealing is Miss Alma’s literary club where they “discuss” (Brock says this with a thick Southern accent and a dollop of self-mockery): Bob Schmidt, Kassy Bradford, Jimmy Guckin, and Carlos Forbes.
That both Brock and Zak are older than the expected age of the central characters makes their situation all the more painful—a twenty-year old might escape the Williams doom (although consider The Glass Menagerie’s Laura, for one of many examples whose need to be saved by her Gentleman Caller is a study in hopelessness)—but a fifty-year-old, still fluttering and rampaging is in a circumstance far more dire (consider A Streetcar Named Desire’s Blanche du Bois). Although the show’s coda is not clearly enough staged to make its sad and shocking point, we do see, as Miss Alma sees, that “The only thing to do with a cross is to bear it.”
[Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortiium at the Bethany Mission Gallery, 1527 Brandywine Street] September 4-23, 2018; IdiopathicRidiculopathyConsortium.org