Review by Bill Garry.
Daniel Bess, Lindsay LaVanchy, Karen Kondazian and John Prosky
Photos by Ed Krieger
When Tennessee Williams writes, the words spill naturally, sometimes with smoke, sometimes with fire. The Fountain Theatre's production of "Baby Doll" takes Williams' 1956 original screenplay (theatrical trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmGLukVNBNo) and, in adapting it to the stage, focuses the heat like a magnifying glass in sunlight.
(Left: John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy)
The set-up -- a virgin bride living with a middle aged man who promised her daddy to take care of her -- may seem a little clichéd today, but you have to remember that Williams is taking us into a world that was just being exposed to sunlight in 1956. You can feel the hand of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC) in the fact that the girl is 19 -- not 15 -- and in the play's happy love resolution.
The virgin bride is physically and emotionally embodied by Lindsay Lavanchy in a riveting performance as Baby Doll. She is a child, a schemer, and an awakening sexual being all in one.
The middle-aged man, Archie Lee, portrayed by John Prosky, is ornery and comically pathetic. Tortured by his wife's budding sexuality, he commits a desperate crime as a way to solve his money problems and to keep his wife from breaking her promise to finally consummate the marriage.
But the victim of his crime, Sicilian neighbor Silva Vacarro, soon catches on and begins a game of baiting and seduction involving both man and wife.
The talented Karen Kondazian, as worn-out Aunt Rose, adds comic relief. She, too, becomes a pawn in Vacarro's revenge plot and draws out the audience's sympathies.
Daniel Bess plays Vacarro with a cruel streak hidden under matinee-idol bravado. As he manipulates Baby Doll, he takes off his shirt and playfully gallops around the house on a stick pony. He also violently threatens her, which makes the happy ending a little weird (MPPC and 1956/2016 dissonance, I suppose).
(Right: Daniel Bess and Lindsay LaVanchy)
Simon Levy's direction uses the intimate Fountain stage to great effect. Archie Lee was directed to have a little too light a touch for me; he didn't seem all that desperate to take dangerous action. I would have liked to see a deeper malevolence and a little less comic horniness. His friend's daughter was probably his last -- and only -- chance to get a wife, so more than money and getting laid would be at stake.
Crafts -- lighting, sound, costumes, sets -- are first rate. Peter Bayne's sound design stands out: far-off sounds are far-off, and when Baby Doll looks across the street to the cotton gin, you almost turn your head to look yourself. The farmhouse set by Jeffrey McLaughlin beautifully captures the poverty and desperation of its inhabitants. The attention to detail is impressive; a real lawn with real dirt has real litter strewn about.
Williams' screenplay was adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann. Set in just a few interior rooms and yard, the dialogue successfully conveys a sense of the fields and town beyond.
(Left: John Prosky)
This Baby's pedigree shows. The adaptation was originally produced by Princeton's McCarter Theatre (Ms. Mann is artistic director), a Tony award-winning regional arts center known for original, topical, and powerful productions; The Fountain is one of L.A.'s most successful 99-seat houses, winning local and national awards.
Interviews with the actors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rhzI0tzk1o
RUNS: Fri - Mon, through 8/28
90 Minutes / No Intermission.
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90029