A Review of Target Margin's Tennessee Williams
by Tony Phillips
It’s hard not admire a play that jolts to life with a pounding rock score while its cast clacks away on castanets. For anyone who knows the work of the downtown iconoclast collective Target Margin, or even, for that matter, some of the loopier plays of maestro Tennessee Williams, the pairing of this company with the experimental Williams one-act play Ten Blocks on the Camino Real won’t come as any surprise. For the uninitiated, impromptu dance numbers, South Asian bindis dotting some character’s foreheads and certainly the colander-topped Don Quixote making a late play appearance will take a little getting used to, but for anyone who enjoys what this company does, this paired-down production with a cast of only six will not disappoint.
The play, a 1948 collaboration between Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan at The Actors Studio, chronicles the American boxer Kilroy as he descends the nine circles of a Latin American backwater, beds the local gypsy’s daughter and is eventually carted off to a more under-world by “street-cleaners,” brought eerily to life here in yellow opera-length, dish-washing gloves and the clear plastic masks most slasher films employ. Kazan went onto name names before House of Un-American Activities Committee, this avant garde play morphed into the Broadway success Camino Real and Williams had some of his best work, like The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Night of the Iguana still ahead of him.
Baby-faced Satya Bhabha enters as Kilroy, wearing Everlast gold boxing gloves, an Elvis belt and cowboy boots. It’s hard not to get excited. This young actor has already compiled an impressive list of credits last season: from Indian import Rafta, Rafta to roles in several productions in Charles Mee’s season at the Signature Theater. When he raises his arms here, gloves connected by a rope that makes for an instant boxing ring, it would be easy for him to take a victory lap, but instead he attacks his lines with a 1940s noirish swagger. For Williams’ fans unaccustomed to this company’s unique approach, that language is all they’ll have to hold onto, but it sings here — I can’t wait to use the pickup line: “You don’t have any of the minor vices?” — proving that even when Williams takes a walk on the wild side, “the glorious bird” never loses his song.