The Really Big Once
Target Margin Theater anatomizes a Tennessee Williams flop.
Mon Apr 19 2010
VEIL OF TEARS Maria-Christina Oliveras, bottom right, keeps her intentions hidden.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
In 1953, Elia Kazan directed a new Tennessee Williams play on Broadway. Normally, this would have been a Pinnacle of Theatrical History--type moment, just like the Williams-Kazan bull’s-eye A Streetcar Named Desire. Instead, the postmodern-before-its-time Camino Real belly flopped off the high dive. The painful smack still echoes through the halls of theater; avant-gardist Richard Foreman calls it a defining moment, but the failure also steered audiences away from experimental work for years. Director David Herskovits weighs in on the stymied show with the disappointingly scrapbooky The Really Big Once, in which five actors read from the collaborators’ correspondence, pretend to be Herskovits himself (struggling with notions of failure while equating himself with giants) or tumble into fragments of the problematic source.
Once has all the hallmarks of a David Herskovits joint—hipster ugliness, poppy sound design and barrels of research. (The brutally pink set, in fact, boasts that research, taped up as a kind of high-water line.) Herskovits’s intellect operates at a spectacularly fast RPM, and his best shows radiate that turbocharged intellectual heat. Here, though, the sheer quantity of information chokes the production, which talks about the warmth between the two men while staying utterly chilly. Steven Rattazzi does his customarily wonderful banzai charge through the material, while sprinkling hilariously nasty antifan, antipress grace notes. But after every clever moment, the cast plunks back down on the carpet to read us the research. This isn’t dangerous or visionary; it’s dull. Thank heavens Camino Real characters keep barging in, reminding us to take it in stride. Williams would be happy to remind you: Failure can be twice as interesting as success.
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