Five by Tenn

This evening of short plays is the latest of several local productions commemorating the centennial of Tennessee Williams' birth. The pieces offer an intriguing sampling of the master playwright's favorite themes. It's particularly enlightening to see characters that were clearly forerunners to those subsequently fleshed out in Williams' classic works. The five one-acts, helmed by different directors, achieve varying degrees of success.

The best script is "Portrait of a Madonna" (1944), incisively directed by Deborah Geffner. It's graced with a powerful tragicomic performance by Perry Smith as Miss Lucretia Collins, a quintessential Williams heroine haunted by guilt, sexual repression, loneliness, and ultimately madness; the crazed spinster bears a close kinship to Williams' indelible Blanche DuBois. "Auto-Da-Fé" (1941) is another compelling story of extreme repression. The suffocating control of a New Orleans matriarch (Geffner) pushes her sickly son (Joe Massingil) to commit a desperate act.

As in "The Glass Menagerie," autobiographical suggestions of Williams' relationship with his mother are apparent. Director Brionne Davis elicits excellent work from the actors. Directed by Jamison Jones, "Hello From Bertha" (1946) is surprisingly close to pure nihilism. Yet it is superbly acted by Virginia Novello as a prostitute who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually at the end of her rope, and not receiving much sympathy from the madam running the boarding house (capably played by Shannon McManus).

The brooding "Talk to Me Like the Rain…And Let Me Listen" (1953) is bolstered by Williams' poignant and sweetly lyrical speeches exploring longing and suffering. Director Lauren Patrice Nadler's production doesn't fully meet the potential of this affecting work about a couple ravaged by disappointment and poverty, stuck in a run-down hotel. Shawn Parsons gives a credible portrayal, but Natasha Makin's line deliveries sometimes lack the requisite conviction.

"The Lady of Larkspur Lotion" (1941), the loopy tale of a prostitute (Shelly Hacco), prone to self-delusion, and her encounters with a crass landlady (Heidi Rhodes) and an alcoholic writer (Joe Dallo), is interpreted by director Jeremy Aluma as a shrill farce. Virtually every line is overplayed, compromising the dialogue's lyricism and nuances of character.

Presented by the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company at Theatre 68, 5419 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. Mar. 26–May 1. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 960-5068.