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Hamptons Life

Apr 24, 2012 9:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Play Review: 'In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel'

Apr 24, 2012 10:35 AM

Though the setting is halfway across the world, it seems that Tennessee Williams must have had the East End in mind when he sat down to write “In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel.”

The play—about a damaged, alcoholic painter who has begun to unravel both mentally and physically, and his voraciously unhappy wife—is said to be based on Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. But some local experts have noted significant similarities between the characters in the play and the real-life tumultuous relationship between the abstract expressionist and his muse and lover, Ruth Kligman, who survived the 1956 drunk driving crash in Springs that killed Pollock.

Regardless of Mr. Williams’s true inspiration for the characters, it is impossible for anyone with even a passing knowledge of art to not think of the man who made it big with his drip paintings while watching the drama unfold on the stage at The Bridge at the Bridgehampton Community House.

The four-character play—staged by HITFest (formerly the Naked Stage) and starring Seth Hendricks as Mark Conley; Licia James-Zegar as his wife, Miriam; Glenn Thomas Cruz as the Bar-Man; and Terrance Fiore as Mark’s gallerist, Leonard—is so deeply personal and full of pain that it can be difficult at times to watch, were it not for some top-notch acting (more on that later).

In typical Williams’s fashion (think “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Glass Menagerie” in particular), the main characters aren’t all that likable. Actually, this reviewer fought feelings of revulsion, repugnance, and ultimately, pity for Mark and Miriam. But that was the point.

“Tokyo” is one of those works that one doesn’t go to just spend a few hours in the theater and then swan about afterward like it was a typical day. In fact, the plot and the lives of the two main characters are haunting, leaving this reviewer unsettled and brooding for days after watching it on opening night this past Thursday.

I, apparently, was not alone. Word on the street is that the audience on Friday night, which included Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, stayed in their seats after the end of action and sat for quite some time and talked—salon style—about their impressions of the play.

Even back in the day of the original production in 1969, this drama had a deep effect on audiences. In the New York Times, critic Clive Barnes wrote: “The play seems almost too personal, and as a result too painful, to be seen in the cold light of public scrutiny.” He continued, “This is Mr. Williams’s sad bird of loneliness—and, although the play repelled me it fascinated me with the author’s occasional sudden resurgence of skill—there are plaintive notes of poetry recalling Williams at his very best.”

Back to present day, to the production directed by Joshua Perl here on the East End. A four-person play can be tricky. The actors must all be working at their personal bests as well as contributing on a high level to the small ensemble team. With just one poor performance, the entire cast can drown in a sea of flop sweat. Fortunately at The Bridge, every one of the four actors put in a compelling and solid performance.

Mr. Hendricks (whom, I must admit, I have quite a soft spot for in just about anything he does) plays a character quite different from one audiences might be used to seeing. Sure, he most recently played a lothario in “Dangerous Liaisons” at the Southampton Cultural Center, but for the most part, theatergoers can’t help but root for the characters played by this actor. He imbues his characters with sweetness and vulnerability that translates to intense likability.

Here, Mark is less likeable and more pitiable but it’s clear that Mr. Hendricks has done his character work. He enters the stage as if bloody and beaten but it turns out that the painter, who is circling the drain, is actually just shaking with the DTs (and perhaps neuropathy) and covered in paint. He is a broken shell of a man and it shows in every stagger, in every stammer, and even when Mr. Hendricks is sitting quietly on a stool. He is heartbreaking.

Ms. James-Zegar plays Miriam, a woman who is so aggressively desperate and self-involved that she wants someone else to commit her husband to a sanitarium, not so he can get better, but so she can be rid of him once and for all. Her pathetic attempts at seducing the Bar-Man, her conversations with Mark and with Leonard, and even her body language, screams “You sold me a bill of goods that is not what I thought I was buying and I want OUT!”

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Wow! I can't wait to see it. Again!
By Josh (2), Hampton Bays on Apr 24, 12 2:37 PM