Shedding Light on Late Tennessee Williams

11/06/2013 4:00 AM |

The Mutilated

New Ohio Theatre

Nothing this fall theater season is more enticing than Mink Stole and Penny Arcade in Tennessee Williams’s raw and dangerous comic one-act The Mutilated, which opens at the New Ohio Theatre on November 10 (through December 1). “Working with Penny Arcade and Mink Stole is unlike anything else I’ve experienced so far,” director Cosmin Chivu, pictured above, tells us. “We belong to three completely different worlds. Mink Stole comes from a film background, and I adore her work in all of her John Waters movies. Penny began in the East Village at the Playhouse of the Ridiculous in the late 1960s when Off-Off Broadway was flourishing with experimentation. My training started in Eastern Europe and continued at the Actors Studio and partly in the commercial world. But we’ve learned how to find common ground and grow together.”

At 17, Chivu was working as an actor and director of plays by Brecht, Pinter and Ionesco in his native Romania shortly after the fall of communism. In 2011, he staged a Tennessee Williams one-act called The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde at La MaMa, and during its brief run he was approached by Thomas Keith, an editor of late Williams work, about staging Williams’s autobiographical play Something Cloudy, Something Clear on a Provincetown beach. And now he will continue his association with late, difficult Williams material with this production of The Mutilated, which played on Broadway for only one week in 1966 with another play, The Gnädiges Fräulein, under the title Slapstick Tragedy. “The Gnädiges Fräulein is a deeply funny, sometimes cruel, wickedly dark play,” says Chivu. “It is widely done in colleges and is considered one of Williams’s funnier late works, and Zoe Caldwell won a Tony award for her performance in the original production.  The Mutilated, on the other hand, has always been the ugly sister of the two plays. It needs a production that realizes its full potential for humor, burlesque, and pathos.”

Mink Stole met Chivu when she was doing a production of another late Williams play, Now the Cats with Jewelled Claws, and Keith suggested that they should do The Mutilated together with Arcade, the earth-mother of downtown performance art. “This play is virtually unknown outside of Williams scholars and aficionados,” says Chivu. “Once the critics had almost completely given up on him because he was unable to reproduce or compete with his early work, Williams said that he would write chamber pieces. The Mutilated is one of those chamber pieces that I hope will be better understood and appreciated because of our production.” Chivu hopes to continue to work on later and lesser-known Williams plays. “A House Not Meant to Stand, Vieux Carré, Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? and A Cavalier for Milady are wonderful plays,” he says. “I believe that the appetite for the late work of Williams will continue and hopefully change the perception of his
nontraditional plays.”