TENNESSEE WILLIAMS' 27 WAGONS... AND MORE

If there is a theme uniting these three short plays by Tennessee Williams, it is desperation. Women desperate for the attention of men, desperate to hold on to their pride. Men desperate for money and power, willing to do anything to get it—or avenge it. Director Avner Garbi has assembled a gifted ensemble of actors. He's protected and encouraged them to give raw, vulnerable, bare-bones performances that are at times heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch—but always mesmerizing.

Two dolled-up, over-the-hill women pick up men attending a convention in St. Louis in the evening's 20-minute opener, A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot. Danica Sheridan and Tracy Pulliam, wearing form-fitting dresses and picture hats, skillfully embody these shallow, physically flawed, delusional women who "have no pride where men are concerned." They relish reminding each other of the truth yet together can avoid it for another day.

The Lady of Larkspur Lotion could be a prologue to A Streetcar Named Desire. Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore, delicately portrayed by Pulliam, is behind in her rent in a disreputable New Orleans boardinghouse. She tells Mrs. Wire (Irene Roseen, wonderfully effective as the brittle, no-nonsense, suspicious landlady) that she hasn't received her monthly payments from her rubber plantation. Wire punctures the fantasies of both Moore and the Writer (Mark Bramhall)—another boardinghouse denizen who claims to have written a 700-page manuscript. Bramhall passionately defends Moore's "honor" in an articulate monologue that proves that his character is sensitive, wise, and not without talent—but it has wasted away. Moore and the Writer find comfort in each other's arms by avoiding their truths and supporting each other's illusions. Each copes through the kindness of a stranger.

Anchoring the evening is 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Sheridan portrays Flora, the simple "baby doll" bride of Jake (Adam Gregor), a brutish farmer who sets fire to the neighbor's cotton gin so he can get the work—and the money it will bring. Gregor is powerful as his character psychologically and physically abuses Flora into covering his arson with a lie. Jake loves his women "tremendous," and it is a credit to Sheridan, who is physically large, that she allows herself to be so vulnerable and appear so slovenly. Their scene on the porch swing is unforgettable—two totally committed actors giving their all. Bramhall, as Vicarro, the suspecting neighbor who lost his cotton gin, is equally menacing and intimidating. Vicarro takes revenge by seducing and raping Flora, who survives by hiding the truth from her husband, slipping away into childlike delusion.

The productions are enhanced by authentic costume design by Pat Tonnema, creative and versatile set design by Thomas S. Giamario, and lighting by Curtis Stahl.

"Tennessee Williams' 27 Wagons… and More," presented by Dejase Productions at the Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Aug. 17-Sept. 23. $15. (310) 289-2999.