The Canadian playwright and actor Daniel MacIvor has been creating theater for more than twenty years, and several of his dark-toned, surreal pieces, like Never Swim Alone and Monster, have had fairly long runs in New York. Never Swim Alone played at a previous New York International Fringe Festival, making it one of the rare shows from that everything-and-the-kitchen sink outlet to make an impact outside of the Fringe, and MacIvor’s new play, His Greatness, plays at this year’s Fringe Festival; since he’s one of the few artists to really make an impact with his Fringe shows, there were a lot of hopeful fans in the audience, and my own appetite was whetted because the play purports to be about Tennessee Williams at the end of his life. I say “purports” because this is one of those plays that calls its lead character “The Playwright,” and does not mention A Streetcar Named Desire or any of Williams’s other plays by name. In a rambling program note, MacIvor writes about Williams’s “broken” quality and sees this same broken quality in the man’s work. He presumes to write about the inner state of the great playwright himself, even though he attempts to cover his ass by trying to keep his main character’s identity unclear.
Yet The Playwright (Peter Goldfarb) wears big, blocky black glasses like Williams did, speaks in a southern accent, talks of his dear, mad sister and his own fear of madness, and apparently has a “Warren Beatty speech,” which he regales men with when he wants to go to bed with them. This is Tennessee Williams, obviously, but MacIvor wants to keep his “he is and yet he isn’t” gambit, and this has an unintended effect, for though this is clearly Williams, it is also clear that a few days with him in the late seventies or early eighties would have been a lot funnier, more drugged up and far more painful than anything MacIvor writes for his own southern playwright. Mainly, Goldfarb and his temperamental assistant (Dan Domingues) bitch at each other in a tired, stereotypical way, and the entrance of a hustler (Michael Busillo) does nothing to up the ante on either conflict or humor. Indeed, this particular hustler is so outlandishly stupid and ignorant that he’s merely used for some easy laughs. There is no poetry here, no tenderness, no attempt to mine the endless richness of Williams’s work or his stature as a tortured, addicted, and very wild man. Writing a play about a great playwright takes guts, and if you’re going to do it, you can’t hedge your bets like MacIvor does throughout; this is a bloodless effort that doesn’t even begin to comprehend, let alone dramatize, Williams’s fabled greatness.
Remaining performances of His Greatness at the NYFringe take place Aug 27 at 3:45pm and Aug 29 at 12pm at the Cherry Lane Theater (38 Commerce St).
(Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard)