Taking her dictation is Frances Black, Blackie as Sissy calls her. Blackie, played here by Maggie Lacey, is still dealing with the recent death of her husband. She is reserved and up-tight and hasn’t adjusted well. She is also not handling the pressures of her job and seems a bit over her head.
The only way to get to the top of Sissy’s mountaintop is up a goat path. The attractive Christopher Flanders has trespassed on Sissy’s property and has been attacked by her guard dogs. He has walked from Genoa to Naples (365 miles, in case you were wondering) and is exhausted. He has come to see Sissy and comes baring a book of his poems. He is shown to one of two villinos by Blackie where he falls fast asleep, but not before grabbing a quick shower and displaying his fine physic for Blackie, who pretends not to notice. Before he drifts off he gives Blackie a gift to give to Sissy, a mobile he made himself.
While he sleeps, Sissy orders one of her hands, Giulio to retrieve Chris’s satchel from his room. Upon returning with it Sissy instructs Blackie to search for his little black book explaining that “Sometimes it gives you a clue to their backgrounds and inclinations.” What she discovers is that most of the entries in his black book are of elderly woman who have passed on.
Sissy tells Blackie to call a friend, a gossip whom she refers to as the Witch of Capri, and invite him for dinner that very evening. The Witch of Capri arrives and tells Sissy that her hunky young trespasser has a nickname that precedes him, the Angel of Death. It seems he has been traveling throughout Europe befriending dying women. And from a couple of moments in this production, one might surmise that his proclivities may not end with women.
The role of Christopher Flanders as played by Darren Pettie is ambiguous. We never quite know if he is truly sympathetic in his actions or is just there for what he can get. It’s ironic that both Chris and Sissy have spent their lives sucking on the teat of others and now they find themselves in a dance that has her needing him as much as he needs her.
The role of Blackie is bland and generic. We never see any depth in this character and that’s not completely Ms. Lacey’s fault (though her performance felt mechanized.) It’s hard to say exactly where the deficiencies in the character leave off and the deficiencies in the performance pick up. I found the character and the performance unsympathetic.
In the 1964 Broadway production, the Witch of Capri was played by a woman (Mildred Dunnock). In this production the role is played by Edward Hibbert, a man who has made a living playing, well... Edward Hibbert. Just once I would like to see Mr. Hibbert play a different role that requires him to drop the British accent (he’s from New York after all) and stop mincing. I’m not saying he isn’t funny or talented, the audience enjoyed his performance immensely but he does play the same type of character no matter the role.
Sissy seems to go in and out of rage all the while blurting out dictation over her microphone. We see her frailty under the guise of her fortitude. Ms. Dukakis has lay aside any sense of pride while she exposes herself in this production, her ample bosoms heaving at the top of her bodice, her legs splaying open on the corner of the bed to expose the full length of one leg as she give herself an injection of pain killer. This was once a glamorous woman but her best days are behind her. This is not a glamorous role, it takes a confident actress to carry it off. Ms. Dukakis goes broad with this broad but it’s hard to imagine Tallulah Bankhead (who played Sissy in the 1964 revival opposite Tab Hunter) did anything less.
This production has been ably directed by Michael Wilson, a man who is no stranger to Tennessee Williams. He has directed 19 of Mr. Williams’s plays while the Artistic Director for 13 seasons at the Hartford Stage.
Tennessee Williams has borrowed from himself for this play. Sweet Bird of Youth had a similar plot that involved a younger man taking advantage of a fading beauty for his own personal gain. (Sweet Bird of Youth is soon to be revived on Broadway with Nicole Kidman.) Unfortunately this play feels like the lesser of Mr. Wiliams’s two works.