Tennessee Williams' sprawling dream of a play begins with a whacked Don Quixote stumbling into the run-down plaza of a town. Quixote (Ron Slanina) falls asleep, and his dreams unfold across the plaza in segmented blocks--following great lovers, gypsies, vagrants, and perverts as they struggle through the brutal stuff of life. Slanina is uplifting as the old wanderer, throwing out Williams' poetry with a confident flair and raising our expectations for a riveting evening.
The production unfortunately loses steam after Quixote drifts off to sleep. The plaza's characters are colorful enough. Casanova, Camille, Kilroy, and a gypsy psychic are among the spectacular figures peopling this town, but the craziness doesn't let up long enough for much to develop. This may be in part due to the detailed direction of Hope Alexander: While she has assembled a talented cast and throws many intriguing and kitschy ideas at the piece, she seems to have clouded the play's heart. It's a showy piece to begin with, and her numerous ideas, many of which are fun and sparkly alone, crowd together to create a general noise that drowns out the kernel of hope buried inside the play. The program notes tell of a play in which love defeats heartbreak, but the production seems to run on and on in a hopeless trance.
Fine performances are given by many in this ensemble cast. Barbara Roberts is dynamic as the sassy gypsy; Tony C. Burton and Gwen Van Dam cut a funny yet pathetic pair as Lord and Lady Mulligan, and Karen Reed is eerily calming as a blind prophet. Sarina Ranftl plays the gypsy's daughter, the focus of one of the play's love stories, like a glittering Ricki Lake. It's a strange choice, which, though enjoyable, makes any empathy for her character impossible. The other lovers, Casanova (Yvans Jourdain) and Marguerite Gautier (Jill Jones) seem so weary it's hard not to believe they are doomed. Costumes by Esther Blodgett and set design by Slanina boast impressive pieces, but each falls into the production's central trap: Just too much happens for any one thing to take our focus.
Slanina returns later in the play as the poet Lord Byron. Once again he takes the stage and gathers the audience to him. He launches into his own rediscovery while exhorting us to "Make voyages, attempt them. There is nothing else." The Company Rep's production of this complex play is certainly that. Though the trip can be rocky, it's a worthwhile trip all the same.