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2 By Tennessee Williams
27 Wagons of Full of Cotton and Kingdom of Earth are two one act plays by Tennessee Williams now at St. Luke’s Theater. The cast the evening I went was the same for both plays. Mike Keller as Jake and Chicken, Justin R G Holcomb as Silva Vicarro and Lot, and Judy Jerome as Flora and Myrtle.
Tennessee Williams’ plays are about the words, not sets, not lighting, just the words. 27 Wagons Full of Cotton concerns itself with Jake, Flora his wife, and Silva... a rival cotton gin owner. Silva a plantation owner built his own gin, thereby curtailing Jakes business. Jake burns down Silva’s gin, and forces Silva to have Jake gin his cotton. The play focuses on Jake’s abusive relationship with the childlike Flora, Silva’s discovery of Jake’s involvement with the burning of his mill and his revenge by seducing Flora. The interaction between Jake and Flora, and between Silva and Flora are the meat of the play. All the actors involved are first-rate, Jake a mean abusive redneck, Silva, whose very appearance displays menace, and the delectable child woman Flora.
Williams’s language pervades menace and both Keller and Holcomb do an supurb job of passing that menace to the audience. Jerome is excellent as Flora and particularly brilliant in her after sex glow following the seduction by Silva. Silva promises not to rebuild his gin, allowing him to continue the “good neighbor policy” with Flora, which seems not to displease Flora at all.
Kingdom of Earth involves Chicken, Keller, his half brother Lot, Holcomb, and Lot’s brand new wife Myrtle, Jerome. The Mississippi Delta is about to be flooded, including Chicken’s place. A neighbor will dynamite his levee to save his own property. When this happens Chickens farm will be flooded. Chickens only escape is to get on his roof with his chickens, hence his name, and wait to be rescued. At this time who should arrive, but dying half brother Lot with new wife Myrtle. Lot and Myrtle met in Memphis two days ago got married yesterday and arrived today. Lot soon retires to bed waiting to die, while Chicken informs Myrtle that the flood is coming and unless she can get to the roof she will probably drown. The play and dialogue concern itself with Chicken and Myrtle dancing around Chicken’s ownership of the farm, and Myrtle’s goal of ingratiating herself with Chicken so she will be saved. While doing this she ignores Lots cries of distress to concentrate of her own salvation. Myrtle and Chicken are both life time losers, he being attached to the stigma of mixed race after being charged by a spurned lover of being part black, and Myrtle always wandering through life without any goal or purpose. Holcomb has little to do but arrive, cough a great deal and die. The interaction of Keller and Jerome as Chicken and Myrtle is very captivating as he threatens and promises, and she becomes a shape shifter to accommodates his desires.
The acting is excellent in both plays, but its Williams’ words that resonate.