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Paulanne Simmons

“The Rose Tattoo” Still Makes an Impression


Emun Elliott and Marisa Tomei in "The Rose Tattoo." Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Rose Tattoo
Directed by Trip Cullman
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42 Street
From Sept. 19, 2019
Tickets: From $59
Closes Dec. 8, 2019
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 17, 2019

When “The Rose Tattoo” opened on Broadway in February 1951, reviewers didn’t know exactly what to make of it. Brooks Atkinson called it a “folk comedy.” But in a nod to the poetic quality of Tennessee Williams’s work, he added that the play is “the loveliest idyll written for the stage in some time.” In fact, under the influence of his Sicilian lover, Frank Merlo, Williams wrote his only romantic comedy, a play that celebrates love and passion as redemptive and fulfilling rather than destructive and disappointing.

Roundabout’s revival this season is blessed with leads that bring the happy couple to lusty life. Marisa Tomei is passionate, funny and sometimes just shy of tragic as the widowed Serafina Delle Rose, and Emun Elliot, is charmingly awkward as the truck driver who stumbles into her life and keeps it from falling apart. As lovers, they’re not as lightheartedly funny as Rock Hudson and Doris Day, but we can be pretty sure they set the sheets on fire in ways Hudson and Day would never could.

Other aspects of the production don’t fare so well.

Serafina’s life as a lonely seamstress in Louisiana is thrown into greater turmoil when she sees her daughter Rosa (Ella Rubin) growing into a woman and taking an interest in young men, most specifically, a young sailor named Jack (Burke Swanson). Rosa, like her mother, needs to find love. But while her mother is a tigress, she is a kitten.

Rosa is defiant. Serafina is distraught. Jack is cautious. When the sparks fly, they are not between Jack and Rosa. Thus, the secondary couple is little more than a plot devise.

Director Trip Cullman has created a very busy staging. True, some of these characters (Rose’s busybody neighbors, for instance) may have been written into the script. But this production seems to be steaming with vagabond children and evil presences. Even the set is unsettling. Why are there so many doors? What are those pink flamingos doing? Where is the house in relation to the sea in the background? Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where the characters are coming from or going to.

Despite these drawbacks, this Rose Tattoo survives and often triumphs for two reasons. Williams is among a handful of playwrights who can create fascinating characters, put them in dramatic situations and give them dialogue that sings. Tomei and Elliott know how to embody these characters that are at the same time true to life and larger than life. For many theatergoers this is surely enough. [PS]

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