I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays
Cock Tavern Theatre March 2011
It is a real coup and very much to the credit of this ambitious pub theatre that it has been given the rights to two hitherto unknown plays by Tennessee Williams, with A Cavalier For Milady later this month and this unpublished 1970 drama now.
Any Williams fan would want to see this, even if it were not very good. And it is not very good, though that should not stop you from seeing it.
Williams spent most of the 1960s either drunk, drugged or in rehab, and although he declared himself clean and cured, and continued to write until his death in 1983, something had been lost in the lost decade.
It wasn't his poetic imagination - no one else would have a character say (and get away with) 'I have been betrayed by a sensual streak in my nature' - and no other playwright would put a dying actress and a stud in a New Orleans bedroom and let then discover their need for each other.
What was fading, as Williams' other plays of the 1970s also show, was his ability to shape these images and bursts of poetry into coherent plays.
I Never GetDressed.... is more a rough sketch for a play than the play itself, and it is too much made up of bits and pieces borrowed from other, more successful Williams dramas.
In her fragility and near-hysteria, the girl in this play is a pale copy of Blanche and Amanda, while the boy unable to think beyond his crotch is far coarser and less sympathetic than Stanley or Chance but cut from the same template.
The girl's hysterical reaction to the constant noise of tourists outside is just Maggie shouting at the no-neck monsters, while his telling of a gratuitously macabre story footnotes directly to The Night Of The Iguana. And the whole scene is an out-take from or sketch for a subplot in Vieux Carre.
But even without those self-plagiarisms, all Williams really has to say here is that the two are far from ideal choices for each other, but they're all they've got, and he has said that far more successfully elsewhere.
As if confessing that he hadn't really written the play he wanted to, Williams puts it all in a frame, as we discover that what we are watching is actors in a final rehearsal of a play about these characters, breaking the illusion to complain about their lines or take notes from the 'director' and 'playwright'.
This enables Williams to say what he wasn't able to dramatise, either by having the 'playwright' explain his intentions to the actors or by having them describe their understanding of a scene.
You can almost sense him repeatedly reaching a point in the script and thinking 'I don't know how to get this across in dialogue.'
Telling us what he was unable to show us might have been a stopgap, had Williams been able to return to the text and polish it. But leaving it that way is an admission of defeat.
Given the very fragile text he had to work with, the actual director Hamish MacDougall is able only to get uneven results from his cast.
Keith Myers as the playwright and Shelley Lang as the girl are most successful in creating and sustaining the reality of their characters, with the others too frequently falling into the trap of cartoonish one-dimensionality the playwright set for them.
This is not a good play. But it is unmistakeably a Tennessee Williams play, and that is sufficient reason to recommend it.
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Review of I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays - Cock Tavern Theatre 2011