Chicago Theatre Review
My Funny Valentine of Love
The Rose Tattoo – Shattered Globe Theatre
When recalling the more than two dozen plays penned by Tennessee Williams, the term “humorous” doesn’t usually come to mind. Yet of his many theatrical works, this is the play that Williams himself referred to as his only comedy. Premiering in Chicago, his play became a Broadway success in 1951, earning Williams the first of his three Tony Awards for Best Play. Five years later he adapted his play for a successful film starring Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster.
Williams‘ comedy is about pure passion and love. It tells the story of Serafina Delle Rose, a sensual, middle-age, married Sicilian-American woman who earns her living as a dressmaker in a tiny village near New Orleans. Her Italian husband Rosario, a truck driver who delivers bananas (and secret, illegal drugs), is loved and worshipped by Serafina. She believes their love is perfect and sound and, although they have a teenage daughter named Rosa, Serafina learns that she’s once again pregnant. However, when Rosario is suddenly killed, Serafina goes into shock and suffers a miscarriage. She eventually discovers many hidden facts concerning their relationship and, in response, withdraws from the world.
Never going out of her house, Serafina becomes a recluse, dressing only in a dirty slip. Her sheltered daughter Rosa is about to graduate from high school, but she’s secretly met and fallen in love with Jack, a handsome, young sailor on leave. When, as fate would have it, another young Italian truck driver wanders into Serafina’s life, passion awakens again in Serafina and she must decide whether to remain withdrawn from the world or to rejoin the human race.
The play is filled with humor, memorable, colorful characters, Catholic beliefs and Italian superstitions. There are also recurring motifs found in the playwright’s life and other plays by Williams. Such devises as the overprotective mother, the shy young daughter hoping to assert her own independence, the absent father figure, the presence of alcohol and drugs and, of course, the Southern locale that almost becomes another character in his work, are prevalent. Roses, the symbol of love, growth and new beginnings, are everywhere, from the principal characters‘ names to the fabrics used for many of the costumes and props. Even the wallpaper has roses on it. White, representing purity, innocence and faith, is also used throughout the play. The neighbor’s runaway goat becomes a symbol of Serafina’s passion, always appearing whenever she’s feeling lusty; and Serafina is always at odds with Strega (a funny Darla Harper) for casting her evil eye upon her home.
But it’s in Greg Vinkler’s careful, joyous direction where the lust and love fully emerges. He’s led his cast through this story of love, loss and rebirth with the eye of an artist who understands these moments in life. Sarah Ross‘ cutaway setting allows the audience to easily peer into the lives of these passionate Italian-Americans, while Charles Cooper’s lighting is soft, romantic and lushly illuminating. Sarah Jo White’s costumes are period perfect and tailored nicely. Dialect coach Susan Gosdick has guided her cast to master the intricacies of Italian pronunciation and dialect, with ease.
Eileen Niccolai, so magnificent in Shattered Globe’s recent production of “Our Country’s Good,” is masterful as Serafina. To date, this portrayal of one of Williams‘ most challenging heroines, has to be the actress‘ magnum opus. The diminutive Ms. Niccolai commands her audience’s attention whenever she’s on stage, as well she should; and her complete transformation into this Sicilian spitfire is astonishing. Nic Grelli is funny and sensitive as Mangiacavallo, Serafina’s lover, with “the face of a clown.” His shy, askwardness is endearing as he tries to woo his lady love, while being careful not to offend. Daniela Colucci is charming and sweet as Rosa, while the always exciting, talented Drew Schad makes a kind, empathetic Jack.
Everything about this production bespeaks love, both as part of the production’s artistry as well as within Williams‘ story, itself. This classic of the American Theatre is a perfect offering for the upcoming cupid-inspired holiday because it’s a Valentine filled with passion, love and all the wonderful things that make us human.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 15-February 28 by Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.theaterwit.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.