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Baby Doll (Fountain Theatre)



 
Another revival of a second-rate Tennessee Williams play, “Baby Doll,” has been given a fine production at the Fountain Theatre. It’s been adapted by Pierre Leville and Emily Mann from the Williams screenplay of the 1956 black-and-white “shocker” of the day, now in its second production anywhere.

Williams (1911-1983) had adapted his screenplay from his own short play, “27 Wagons Full of Cotton,” about the adulterous relationship between a Sicilian-American owner of a recently arson-bombed cotton-gin mill (Daniel Bess, looking totally WASP) and the virginal, almost 20-year-old wife (Lindsey LaVanchy) of a late-‘40s Mississippian mill-owner (John Prosky) who is financially falling on his face.

The pent-up sexuality of all three protagonists is the point of this tacky play, with the jealous husband treating her and his dotty aunt (the great Karen Kondazian) with barely-controlled violence and ridicule.

Director Simon Levy has done what he can to make the steamy (and often silly) play credible. His actors are totally committed and make of this story what they can. LaVanchy is beautiful and her semi-literate Baby Doll is played honestly with the naïf’s nascent sexuality. Bess, handsome and showing off his upper torso as he is wont to do, makes his outsider, bent on revenging the husband’s torching of his mill, realistic. Prosky is another in Williams’ inarticulate brutes, older and less sexually desirable, allowing us to understand the humiliation and ensuing rage this ignorant man is going through.

The main problem with the production (aside from the text) is Jeff McLaughlin’s wide, crowded set, with broken-lathe siding for the walls and the outside garden – it crowds the actors and makes it difficult to move around in, as well as showing us a monochromatic orange-yellow. Ken Booth’s lighting design is fine in highlighting the action.

It turns out the accent-provider is Tyler Seiple, who runs the Baby Doll Museum in the town where Elia Kazan shot the then-shocking film, deep inside Mississippi, so the accents do ring true to life.

Those who are big fans of minor Williams will enjoy this production. The actors and director have made it work, but it is still minor Williams, worth knowing mainly for its historical value, otherwise as with the dreadful “Kingdom of Earth,” recently at the Odyssey, not particularly appealing.

“Baby Doll” plays through September 25th at the adventurous Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue (one half-block east of Normandie, Los Angeles. Tickets:  323.663.1525 or at www.FountainTheatre.com.