Not one character in Tennessee Williams’ “Period of Adjustment” is lobotomized, raped or dragged off to a mental asylum.
None is revealed as a frenzied drug addict or nymphomaniac. No one gets eaten alive either — by natives or dogs. And although a lot of alcohol flows, not one of the characters in this play would be classed as an alcoholic, raging, closet or otherwise. Are we sure Tennessee Williams wrote this play?
‘Period of Adjustment’
WHERE: Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge, Mass.
WHEN: Through Sept. 3
HOW MUCH: $60-$15
MORE INFO: 413-298-5576 or www.berkshiretheatre.org
The characters presented here are wracked with loneliness, sexual frustration, inferred impotence and a craving for human kindness and love — classic Williams — but the surprise is that when he turns down the volume on all his usual over-the-top, hyperemotional soap opera, his tone stills stays touching, and the humor just bubbles.
It is an unsettling and odd experience laughing this much during “a play by Tennessee Williams,” but laugh you will, as Berkshire Theater Festival has mounted a wonderful production of this seldom seen Williams gem – it should not be missed.
“Period of Adjustment” is one of Williams’ lesser-known plays. Written in 1958, at the height of Williams’ dramatic power, “Period of Adjustment” made its New York City debut in 1960, as a kind of an answer to a dare as to whether or not he could pen a successful comedy.
While it is not as vacuous as the “boulevard sex comedies” that clogged the Great White Way at that time, it is light for Williams, unusually so. The characters and crisis situations are pure Williams, but the tone is different. The classic and brilliant Williams dialogue is present in the script, but the author shifts gears and takes a more relaxed approach to his characters’ foibles.
Flaws and imperfections in characters that would have been the basis for catastrophes in previous plays are now viewed in a different, softer way. By reducing his characters in stature and the intensity of their problems, he creates comic situations that viscerally satisfy and remain touching.
Just-wed-yesterday Isabel and George Haverstick are visiting George’s old army friend Ralph Bates in his Memphis suburban home on Christmas Eve.
During the course of the visit, it quickly becomes apparent that George and Isobel’s wedding night was an unconsummated disaster and that Ralph’s wife, Dorothea, has just walked out on her six-year marriage to Ralph.
As dour and bleak as that brief synopsis reads, Williams’ touch is light, finding the humor in hope while retaining the seriousness of the conflict. Someone has been quietly at work tightening up dialogue and relieving the 50-year-old script of some of its small excesses. But it’s a professional and flattering trim. The tiny clips and cuts do wonders, allowing Williams’ words to shine with a modern bite.
Under the steady guidance of director David Auburn, the cast balances the humor with the distress and they simply shine. Paul Fitzgerald imbues laid-back Ralph with just the right amount of sweetness and repressed rage, C.J. Wilson’s swagger and shake as George is magnetically powerful and sad, Rebecca Brooksher’s whiny ranting bride Isobel blooms into a glorious, understanding wife right before our eyes and Anney Giobbe’s fragile and fearsome Dorothea offers untainted proof that beauty and grace can surface when the chips start to fall.
“Period of Adjustment” remains a curiosity, an anomaly. The play is a strange amalgam of Williams’ poetic prose, seamlessly woven into the fluff, stuff and nonsense of the goings-on in “Pillow Talk.” But it works, and works well. Who knew Williams was this funny?