Most people think that Tennessee Williams was a pretty great playwright, most of the time. After seeing the original production of In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, however, his mother reportedly turned to him and suggested that it was time to move on to new ventures. Much like Cymbeline, the play is notorious for being rarely produced, though it’s had a few revivals in New York recently, with 3 or 4 productions in the last couple of years. This one may be the most bizarre. Director/Choreographer Maria Torres has elected to embellish the play with choreography and projections.
The plot is quite simple. Miriam (Licia James Zegar) is in Tokyo with her ailing painter husband Mark (Executive Producer Shashi Bajoola), who is slowly going crazy in his hotel room, living only for his art, thinking he’s the first person to discover color. Miriam has called on Mark’s agent Leonard (Ed Trucco), trying to get him to come take care of Mark so she can leave him, meanwhile flirting outrageously with the handsome but straitlaced bar-man (Brandon Lim). Torres has added two dancers, listed in the program as Miriam’s Alter Ego (Alycia M. Perrin) and Mark’s Alter Ego (Ryan H. Rakine). The addition of generic pas de deux/apache dance choreography doesn’t add much to understanding of the play, except at the end of Act I, which Perrin becomes a sort of muse of color for Mark, doing a sensuous pole dance and splattering him with paint (and getting some of the audience, as well- I was in the 2nd row splatter zone and thought I was bleeding at intermission), while Rakine is seducing Miriam in The Shadows at the back of the stage, eradicating the ambiguity of Miriam’s possible between-act infidelity.
Half of the acting is wooden and stilted, Bajoola and Trucco both seem to have memorized the words in order and don’t understand what they’re actually saying. The scenes with Lim and Zegar are quite funny, and start the play off with a bang. The two work off each other brilliantly, and it’s a bit of a shame there’s not more with them in act II; Lim is mostly relegated to standing behind his bar and observing. Zegar is a replacement for Reiko Aylesworth, who has left the show for unclear reasons. She carries the bulk of the play on her back, with monologue after monologue, and though she’s not ideal casting (she’s a bit young for the role), she should be applauded for stepping in so easily, and (along with Lim) actually acting.
Vanessa Leuck’s costume design is lovely, the set by Xiapo Wang is detailed and interesting, though the projections, like the choreography, don’t add much to the goings-on (it seems from the press materials that the projections were to be more heavily incorporated, but were not realized more than as backdrop).
There is a surprising lack of attention to the script elements; just one example is Mark entering, having cut himself shaving in several places; Bajoola makes this entrance covered with bloody toilet paper splotches on his clearly still-existent beard. If the producer and director/choreographer had paid more attention to the play and what it means and not busied themselves with trying to show off, it might be more effective. Overall, it’s a tedious production.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
By Tennessee Williams
At New World Stages
Performances Wednesdays – Mondays at 8PM; Sundays at 7:30PM; Matinees are Saturday at 2PM and Sundays at 3PM.
Tickets are $55 and can be purchased through telecharge online at www.telecharge.com, by calling 212.239.6200 or at the New World Stages box office prior to each performance.