If you could mate John Waters with Charles Ludlam, the offspring might be Mink Stole and Penny Arcade, lead performers in a new production of Tennessee Williams' "The Mutilated." First seen in 1966 as a one-acter on Broadway, coupled with "The Gnadiges Fraulein," the program entitled "Slapstick Tragedy," the play has been relegated to a theatrical dust heap. Seen in its new jazzy production under the fine direction of Cosmin Chivu at the New Ohio Theater, "The Mutilated" resonates with familiar Tennessee tropes and showcases these over-the-top performers in a New Orleans demimonde, imaginatively on the same streetcar line as the Wingfields' in Glass Menagerie.
Celeste Delacroix Griffin (Penny Arcade), a boisterous and bosomy prostitute, is just out of prison and out of luck. The more financially self-sufficient Trinket Dugan (Mink Stole) aches with loneliness. Bringing home a sailor to the hotel room she occupies, she's prey to his nasty, drunken behavior that hews close to Streetcar Named Desire's Stanley and Blanche. She's got a secret that makes her vulnerable, a mutilation so to speak, in the area that her friend has in abundance. Betrayal seems to define their symbiotic relationship, a heartbreaking bond, but it's something.
This casting is perfect: Stole nee Nancy, didn't like the sibilants and, in the era of Warhol's superstars, allowed Waters to redub her. Mink stuck; it's like being called Cup Cake, she laughed at last Sunday's opening night. Penny Arcade's 2009 collection of "performances, essays, and interviews" is called Bad Reputation. Need I say more? Zoe Caldwell attended. Her praise of the actresses is historic, as her performance in "The Gnadiges Fraulein" earned her the first of her four Tony awards.
Williams' non-commercial plays seem free and experimental. A number have been produced in recent years, as in last spring's "Masks Outrageous and Austere" at the Culture Project. His preoccupations in these works fascinate as consistent Tennessee, although my daughter Nina thought Celeste and Trinket's banter about boobs and boys is remarkably "Jersey Shore." Among Williams' papers housed at The Morgan Library is a journal in which he writes about an encounter with a prostitute. He asks, how finally to deal with the money? Awkward moments in deeply human encounters are Williams' metier. But in "The Mutilated," with the addition of a first class Dixieland band, and Jesse Selengut's music to augment the songs Williams wrote himself, the seedy environs teem with life. You won't forget Penny Arcade's boozy, off key rendition of "Jingle Bells" any time soon.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.