The Bar Plays: Small Craft Warnings selected dates: August 07-25, 2019 at Washington Hall. Get more info and tickets here.
A hyper-sentimental beautician, a straight gigolo, an alcoholic doctor and two homosexuals walk into a bar. It may sound like a joke, but it is the cast for Tennessee Williams’ play Small Craft Warnings. The play is part of “The Bar Plays”, one of two productions (the other being William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life) being presented at the historical Washington Hall. Both plays have the action contained within a bar setting. Ryan Guzzo Purcell directs both shows.
Small Craft Warnings are issued when forceful winds are expected to arrive (in marina areas) within 12 hours. The play does exactly that except with the various patrons of a community bar called “Monk’s” in Southern California. Leona is a beautician trying to make a living and find a place to set her roots down. Bill is her gigolo and (philandering) live-in lover on the verge of being thrown out. Doc was a professional until his license was revoked for drinking, and Violet is a desperate figure trying to find a place where she can sleep (and not particular with whom). Two gay men, each with a reason to be passing through, show up unexpected and their presence stirs up a full spectrum of feelings among the patrons’ own tumultuous lives.
The play is done well presenting each of the characters their own ‘confessional’ to explain their individual motives and reasons for being at Monk’s. Kemiyondo Coutinho plays the volatile Leona with gusto and verve. She is a force to be reckoned with as she expresses her sorrow for her dead, gay brother, and frustrations of an unfaithful boyfriend. She controls the stage with her presence and handles the long, soliloquies of character exposition (that Tennessee Williams is known for) with great skill and projection. Richard Prioleau plays Bill with the physical prowess and menacing stage presence that shadows another of Williams’ more infamous characters, Stanley Kowalski. It is easy to see why Bill thinks that he can get away with whatever he wants because of his physical attributes. Madeleine Lambert plays Violet as a mentally broken figure anxious to find a place to rest her head. Her sexual desperation leads her to almost every one of the bar patrons in turn, each encounter evoking a separate response. Lee LeBreton plays Monk, the bartender more observant of his clientele’s actions that becoming a part of them.
Each of the characters gives off an air of desperation that makes Williams’ characters so real and lifelike. While Williams’ writing provides a beautiful, lyrical conversation, it is of note that often, the characters speak with an eloquence that is beyond their own personality types. There is a poetic sense listening to these people of simple despair, struggle and try to make the daily occurrence of life a bit more bearable for themselves. As with most plays by Tennessee Williams, the homosexual character (a gay character appears – directly or indirectly – in almost every one of Mr. Williams’ plays) is a shade of his own persona; except in this case, the character is neither tragic nor causing dissolution for anyone around them. That may be because this is the first play Williams wrote after The Stonewall Revolution occurred, and after his own subtle ‘Coming Out’ in a public interview. Small Craft Warnings also marked Williams’ reentering sobriety after a long stretch (and several panned plays) of what he referred to as his own “Stoned Age”.
Small Craft Warnings opened Off-Broadway on April 02, 1972. Eventually the Andy Warhol discovery (and openly transsexual personality) Candy Darling took over the role of Violet. Tennessee himself would step in as Doc for a time as well. While mixed reviews were presented, the play is considered to be one of Tennessee’s last great written works.
Small Craft Warnings is the first part of “The Bar Plays” being presented by The Williams Project, “a national ensemble of theatre artists, originating work in Seattle” (https://www.TheWilliamsProject.org). The plays are performed in the Washington Hall’s ‘multipurpose’ room and are set up with bar tables to give an authentic feel for the performances. The seating is along the walls and offers the viewers a chance to observe these ‘living essays’ (quote from Clive Barnes, New York Times). The Washington Hall has a historic significance to Seattle being the first music hall to allow integrated performances. Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois have both spoken there, as well as performances by Jimi Hendrix, Bilie Holliday, and Duke Ellington.