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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Rose Tattoo
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of West Side Story and Chicago and Fred's review of Cost of Living

Marisa Tomei
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Marissa Tomei displays exquisite actor's range which, when combined with her commanding, alluring physical self, enables The Rose Tattoo, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through July 17th to triumph. Director Trip Cullman and scenic designer Mark Wendland create a seacoast town in Louisiana during the early 1950s, a locale one senses and feels through its literal composition and construction. This is far from Tennessee Williams' most famous play and it is not produced every day. Yet, it is romantic and soulful, with elements of both realism and illusion. Hence, it is appropriate to admire the mastery of this playwright and the WTF depiction is fully satisfying.

The play opens as waves, though a video, appear at the very rear of the performance space. Cullman brings an extended wooden walkway right through the middle of house seats so that performers, from time to time, are very much within the midst of theatergoers. A couple of wooden electric poles extend from floor to ceiling and hover above a rickety dwelling place on stage. A significant number of pink flamingoes (all shining and lit up) are affixed upstage.

Serafina Delle Rose (Tomei) loses her trucker husband with whom she was fully, passionately in love. The devastation she experiences causes her to retreat and care not for herself. As a reclusive widow, she is in perpetual mourning. Her daughter Rosa (Gus BIrney) comes of age at 15 and falls for a sailor boy, Jack Hunter (Will Pullen). The young woman wishes to escape the suffocating presence of her mother. Serafina confides in Assunta (Barbara Rosenblat), who, as a Greek chorus figure, is a commentator. One of Cullman's terrific choices is that of actress Lindsay Mendez to play a Folk Singer, who will add much texture with Italian/Sicilian lyrics. Michael Friedman's original music is proactive and Ben Stanton's lighting a plus.

Serafina acts, for the first act certainly, as if her life might as well be over. Her main purpose revolves around her authoritative posture with her daughter, whom she hopes to control. Around Serafina spin a variety of townspeople, including The Strega (Constance Shulman), who seems a bit crazed—and who proceeds on stage with a live goat.

During the second portion of the play, the storyline shifts as Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Christopher Abbott) comes on the scene. Serafina's lust for him dominates as she describes him having "my husband's body with the head of a clown." She doesn't quite know what to do but, given Tomei's sensuality, it becomes obvious that she wants him badly. Soon, she rids herself of the washed-out beige slip she's worn and appears wearing a tight white top with a bright yellow skirt. Clint Ramos's costuming is an active asset throughout. Alvaro repeats that he has three dependents with whom he must deal, but he is absolutely taken with Serafina.

The Rose Tattoo can be appreciated on a multitude of levels. It is symbolic and it is sexual. This is a script wherein the mother/daughter tension is tension-producing. The Williamstown production benefits from Gus Birney's multi-faceted interpretation of Rosa, who is a complicated adolescent coping with turmoil as well as her potent feelings for Jack. Abbott's depiction of Alvaro is a warm one. The supporting actors are, to a person, proficient—to say the least. Director Cullman bestows a visual and auditory extravaganza, a show which is hearty and fulsome.

All of that said, many, many moments allow for Marissa Tomei's tour de force. Channeling her inner Sicilian, the actress is comfortable playing to her full promise and is the driving force behind the success of the production throughout. This is a most demanding part which begs for understanding and fortitude. Tomei's realization of Serafina is unique, a prolific match of an appealing actor's gifts with a character unique and enduring. Tennessee Williams is known to have created individuals who struggle. That is the case with Serafina, yes; hers is a conflict within. Tomei's vivid expressiveness and lack of inhibition are always in evidence.

The Rose Tattoo continues at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts through July 17th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 597-3400 or visit

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