By: Isa Goldberg
October 31, 2019: Do you remember the final scene of La Dolce Vita, after the monster fish appears, with the men gathering the fishnet, kids playing on the beach, and Marcello (Mastroianni) moving away, enigmatically. It’s arousing to watch, and it fills our senses.
Seeing Trip Cullman’s production of The Rose Tattoo, at the Roundabout Theatre brings to mind such classic cinematic imagery. Here, immigrant Sicilians spill onto the sand of the Louisiana Gulf Coast town where the play takes place. For me, it evokes Fellini’s imagery – a primal force washed ashore. In Williams’ play, this is a joyous discovery.
While it’s one of Tennessee Williams’ lesser known works, the 1955 movie is remembered for Anna Magnani’s emotionally powerful, Academy Award winning portrayal. In more comic mode, Marisa Tomei gives us a passionate, sensual, and sexy Serafina Delle Rose. Bearing a remarkable likeness to Elizabeth Taylor in her mid 50s-early 60s films, Tomei reaches into the depth of her character with physical abandon exuding sexiness.
When she spreads her hands open, reaching out her arms, claiming her womanliness, and her heritage, saying, “Sicilian,” it’s as if the sun were bursting out of her. She’s equally raw at the death of her husband, and at betrayal. Flinging herself into a heap, digging her heels into the sand, or physically shunning her suitor, Tomei is an eyeful to watch.
When Alvaro, a somewhat grisly-looking, unshaven rogue arrives, he too prods our collective memory, evoking the great clowns of the silent movies. That role, portrayed with aplomb by Emun Elliott marks a promising Broadway debut.
That director Cullman’s approach flourishes in film imagery is in keeping with the dramatic structure of Williams’ play. His most light hearted work, Tattoo combines comedy, tragedy, and classical Greek drama. References to Dionysus abound. Also, in this production a chorus of Sicilian women sing incomprehensibly with melancholic sensuality. Jason Michael Webb’s music is incredibly beautiful.
Most outstanding, the scenic elements (Mark Wendland) contribute largely to the cinematic sweep of the production. Projected footage of the ocean tides (Lucy Mackinnon) meet the onstage sand in an enigmatic metaphor. Humanity set against the illusion of life – the movie set – brings a joyful redemption.
Children playing, townspeople going about their business, Sicilian ladies pining in song, all contribute to the ongoing life of the play. The town gossips, entertainingly played by Paige Gilbert and Portia clad (by Clint Ramos) in bright red and yellow contrast with the Sicilian ladies in their black dresses of mourning. And the sea, beautifully lit by Ben Stanton, is the ever changing mural that carries through their lives.
The Rose Tattoo ****1/2
Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre
227 W. 42nd St., NYC.
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including intermission.
Oct. 15—Dec. 8, 2019
Photography: Joan Marcus