“Their act of love is like the stabbing of a hypodermic needle to which they’re addicted, but which is more and more empty of surprise and interest.” This bleak characterization of the homosexual life in Tennessee Williams’s Small Craft Warnings is delivered by David Greenspan’s Quentin in a searing performance. Though Quentin, Williams’s alter ego, appears onstage only briefly, it’s his tormented voice that sweeps through this meditation on life’s losers, nearly unbalancing the production.
Quentin’s but one of the sad folk collected in a Southern California bar on the “death day” of Leona’s adored young gay brother. Leona, alternately mean drunk and mopish, dumps her gigolo lover, befriends or scalds the others. Sex is everywhere, but each coupling is corrupt, degraded, or pathetic.
The Worth Street Theater Company’s production bathes them all in compassion as they share a few scraps of affection and humanity. In the tiny theater, you feel you’re sitting at the next table as Leona erupts and subsides; as the young hooker Violet jerks off patrons under the table; as Quentin and young Bobby brood in a pool of gloom. But there’s a stilted, desultory quality to the play, as each character inhabits the spotlight for a soliloquy while the others freeze, the action alternately flaring and sputtering.
The fine cast director Jeff Cohen has assembled never quite overcomes the off-kilter script or conflicting acting styles. Cristine McMurdo-Wallis, though bristling braggadocio and leaking tenderness, doesn’t achieve the larger-than-life-ness Leona needs to dominate. In fact the performances all pale beside Greenspan’s Quentin, who, tight of jaw, lacerates with a simple, dismissive “Oh, well.”