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NY Theater Reviews

Patrick McGowan and Graham Anderson/Ph: Joe Bly

BLACK THOUGHTS

By ANDY BUCK

Small Craft Warnings is not top shelf Tennessee Williams, but it's probably his best after 1961's The Night of the Iguana. To succeed, it needs actors who bring the capacity to surprise. For the most part, that's sorely lacking here.

"I've lost the capacity for surprise," says Quentin, an achingly unhappy homosexual in Tennessee William's 1972 play, Small Craft Warnings. Quentin is one of eight denizens of a Southern California beachfront bar, a rundown place that brings to mind Harry Hope's saloon in Eugene O' Neill's The Iceman Cometh...after the Iceman went.

Small Craft is a far cry from Williams's greatest works. But it is probably his best after 1961's The Night of the Iguana. An often depressing, seemingly self-hating work, Small Craft nevertheless mines rich veins of feeling that make it a tempting choice for actors' showcases. To make it an evening of fine drama, however, you need actors who have not lost the capacity to surprise. This production, by the White Horse Theater Company, has only three or four such performers and, unfortunately, the lead is not among them. Linda S. Nelson as the tempestuous Leona, seems to have patterned her character off an old Jackie Gleason sketch. She offers one of several unwatchable performances that the director, White Horse Artistic Director Cyndy A. Marion, hasn't been able to rein in.

Faring much better are Patrick Terance McGowan as Doc ( the role that the playwright himself performed at one time) and Graham Anderson as Monk, the owner of the bar. Both offer master classes in the art of listening onstage. With every twitch of a jaw muscle, every brief spark of fire in one of their eyes, you believe these two characters. Both remain grounded throughout the play, even as the tensions mount and their characters launch, somewhat tragically into action. McGowan and Anderson share the opening dialogue in Small Craft Warnings and thus, offer tantalizing hints that this might be a better production than it turns out to be.

The only other actor who comes close to their level is Mark Ransom, who manages to breathe life into a cameo as a harried cop, although Tommy Heleringer brings some heartfelt moments to the role of a small-town boy from Iowa who's ready to take his own steps into the hopeful unknown.