North of Tennessee

Among the oddities in this is their refusal to track into any unpleasant aspect of the world around Williams. There's a big buildup, involving the birth of a daughter, to Wallach's getting the male lead in the Williams-Kazan film Baby Doll. Then, instead of discussing the controversy its feverish sexual content stirred up— among other things, Cardinal Spellman attempted to have it banned in New York— there's an abrupt change of subject, as if somebody had said something awkward. It's hard to see why a tribute to Tennessee Williams could downplay his constant effort to extend the boundaries of frankness, sexual and otherwise. And people who always push the envelope don't usually end up smiling when it's time for "The envelope, please." But the Wallachs have nothing in particular to say about Williams's work except that they love it, a fact borne out by their performances in the scenes. Even in roles for which they wouldn't have been cast when younger— imagine Jackson as Serafina or Esmeralda— they bring a cogency, a passion, and a sense of erotic fun that mark them as genuine actors, not the hologrammish simulacra we usually get these days. That they need rests between the scenes is understandable; the annoyance is that their show has been so casually patched together. Actors are fine when acting or telling anecdotes; to assemble an evening they need a writer.

Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson in Tennessee Williams Remembered: notes on a working relationship
Reuven Kopitchinski
Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson in Tennessee Williams Remembered: notes on a working relationship

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Tennessee Williams Remembered
By Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson
Arclight Theater
152 West 71st Street
595-0355

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Gene Saks has directed this collection of materials gracefully, but its randomness shows, no matter how intense the duo gets. It's a memory of Williams, but not a view of him; it has his feeling and words, but not his sense of shape. But this is because the Wallachs' career, too, has a loopy shape. America doesn't encourage its artists to build on what they have; marketing it is preferable. Coming home from the Arclight, I found myself stumbling among light battens and electric cable; they were shooting a movie across the street from my apartment. I didn't stop to ask which young New York actors I admire were in it, eagerly waiting to get scooped up in the leviathan's maw.

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