Friday, April 8, 2011

theatre review, THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE, Off Broadway April 7

The Tennessee Williams' play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, premiered in the early 1960's and tells the story of a dying, older, wealthy woman and a young handsome man she catches trespassing on her estate.  Is he the "angel of death" come to take her away or just a gigolo out to use her?

Originally mounted on Broadway in 1964 and starring Tallulah Bankhead, Tab Hunter and Marian Seldes, that production only ran for 5 performances due to mostly negative reviews.  However, an off Broadway revival starring Olympia Dukakis is ending a 3 month run this Sunday, and I caught it last night.

Darren Pettie and Olympia Dukakis

Set in Italy, Mrs. Flora Goforth is a eccentric, Southern, force of nature.  She barks orders from her room in her Italian villa, high up on the rocks overlooking the sea.  She is ready to fire any of the people who work on her estate who get in her way.  But she knows this is her "last Summer" and not yet ready to face death, she has enlisted a recently widowed young woman, Francis Black, or "Blackie" as Flora calls her, to take down her memoirs as she dictates them.  She has even installed an intercom system throughout the villa so the dictating can happen at any time of day or night.  Whenever Flora is ready to speak, Blackie can hear Flora's words ring throughout the expansive hilltop estate.

Maggie Lacey and Darren Pettie
Dukakis is in great form delivering a performance that is volatile, defiant and delicate all at the same time.   She has complete command of the stage and her character, just like Flora does with her life and the people around her.  Maggie Lacey is Blackie, and even though she constantly complains about working for Flora and often pulls into herself when she refers to her young husband who recently passed away, she also realizes that she and Flora have much in common, they've both really only loved one man in their lives.  The fact that Flora has been married four times doesn't matter as she always refers to Alex, the young husband who died in a car crash, as the only one she truly loved.  The way that Lacey and Dukakis refer to these lost loves is heartbreaking.   They are both also ultimately in control of their lives, even though Blackie barely realizes that about herself.

Edward Hibbert
 and Olympia Dukakis
Darren Pettie is Chris, and he perfectly captures the lost soul who you never quite know what his exact intentions are.  It's always nice to see Edward Hibbert in a show, I think this is the fifth or sixth one I've seen him in, and his performance as the Witch of Capri was spot on.  His character is the only one that actually gives us the information we really need to know about Chris, to understand that he just might truly be the angel of death that Flora fears yet desperately needs.

The play itself is a bit on the strange side, with people shouting out to the ocean, Flora's continual delusions and Hibbert whispering the character's names as walks.  But the cast is up to the challenge to make it work and I enjoyed taking the journey.  Of course, having Dukakis at the helm made it a much easier, swifter and enjoyable ride. 

In the end, all of the main characters are all lost souls, looking for something or someone to hold on to.  Something we can all relate to at certain times in our lives.

The set design by Jeff Cowie was very effective with rocky edges, billowing curtains with a beautiful stone grotto design for Flora's bedroom.  This production is modeled on an earlier mounting of the play from 2008 at Hartford Stage that was also directed by Michael Wilson and starred  Dukakis and Lacey.

Interestingly enough, the play was adapted into the 1968 film Boom!, and starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  I've never seen that film so can't comment on it, but since it isn't exactly one that was being talked about when Taylor passed away two weeks ago I can't imagine it was that good.

Roundabout Theatre Company promotional video with interviews -

Amazon link for the paperback of the play (with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) - The milk train doesn't stop here anymore;: [and], Cat on a hot tin roof (Penguin plays)

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