Updated: Oct 24, 2019
by Tennessee Williams
Adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann
Director Shaun Rennie
Photos Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until November 16
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Before attending the opening of an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, the question was, “Will 2019 Australian audiences relate to a play set in Mississippi in 1956? Will it be chronologically, culturally and geographically too far away?”
Archie Lee Meighan, a middle-aged bearded cotton gin operator with a comb over is married to an almost-twenty-year-old woman who is waiting for the right time for them to consummate. She isn’t attracted to the chauvinistic Archie Lee in any way so she keeps trying to stall what appears to be the inevitable.
Enter the tall, swarthy and handsome Silva Vacarro, a neighbour whose cotton gin mysteriously burnt down the night before. When Silva visits the Meighans to find out what happened, or more likely to confirm his suspicions, he is left with Baby Doll while Archie Lee attends to some business. Sexual tension gradually builds to a crescendo.
Kate Cheel is the pouty, immature object of Archie Lee’s obsession. Jamie Oxenbould again delivers as the intellectually limited and sexually frustrated Archie Lee. When required, Oxenbould brings heightened intensity to his role. Maggie Dence is Aunt Rose Comfort who is brought in as a tension valve when things become too intense. You might remember Dence as the title character in the ground-breaking Mavis Bramston Show on television. Socratis Otto’s character, Silva, is the odd one out in the racist deep south, coming from Sicily via New Orleans. This was a time when African Americans were referred to as “niggers” and Europeans were called “wops”.
It’s always interesting to observe Australian actors embracing the accents of the American Deep South because, like the New York City accents, they’re specific and can be quite difficult to master. Anna Tregloan has created a challenging set for the small Ensemble stage area.
If you’re new to the works of Tennessee Williams, curious about this acclaimed playwright and don’t mind a bit of sexual tension in your theatre productions, you might take yourself off to see Baby Doll at the Ensemble Theatre. It’s on until November 16.