Tomei Photo: Joan Marcus
The Rose Tattoo
By Fern Siegel
is something wild in the air.”
The phrase is uttered as The
Rose Tattoo opens, a minor play in Tennessee Williams’ canon. The story arc is thin, and it’s
hard to get overly engaged with the characters, though a sultry sense permeates
There is also an overabundance of plastic pink flamingos
on stage, which threatens to upstage the actors, and a votive-candle shrine to
Set in 1950 in a Gulf Coast village, The Rose Tattoo
tells the story of Serafina Delle Rose (Marissa Tomei), a lusty Sicilian woman
who boasts of her handsome husband and their emotional and sexual
compatibility. Theirs is a lusty, primal union.
So when she learns he died at sea, her grief is almost
operatic. (Actress Anna Magnani is best known for her earthy performance in the
role in the 1955 film version, but Tomei gives it her all.) Draped
in 1950s-style ragged clothing, courtesy of costume designer Clint Ramos,
Serafina’s despair keeps her from the solace of
others, specifically, a cacophony of women shrouded in black garb, led by
Assunta (Carolyn Mignini), Serafina’s
She comes alive only to warn her teenage daughter Rosa
(Ella Rubin) about the dangers of sexual excess.
But the teenage Rosa, enamored of a young sailor (Burke
Swanson), who is equally smitten with her, is deaf to her mother’s entreaties. It’s
no surprise: Serafina has become consumed with mourning, only to be disrupted
by the appearance of her husband’s mistress (Tina Benko), who goes by
the name Estelle Hohengarten, as haughty and WASPish as Serefina is ethnic and
Sex is in the air — both adulterous and hidden. Or at
least-semi-hidden. When a banana truck driver (just like her deceased husband)
shows up, the production kicks into high gear. Which is to say, the action
begins. Alvaro Mangiacavallo (his name means “eat
a horse”) is said to have a clown face, though
actor Emun Elliott is nice looking. He’s
also extremely emotional.
Emun Elliott and
Marisa Tomei Photo: Joan Marcus
The attentive and desperate-to-be-loved Alvaro is taken
with Serefina — and his courting awakens something long dead in her. Their
dance with possibility is touching, and they may have a shot at happiness.
Either way, it’s a slim rod to hang a show on without
more dramatic tension or action.
Ironic then, that one of the high points in the Trip
Cullman-directed play is visual: Lucy Mackinnon’s
hypnotic projections of ever-crashing ocean waves. There is tumult in Serefina’s world. The external imagery underscores
her internal heartache.
Tomei is engaging and credible; her passions anchor this
moody, somewhat minimalist effort. Elliott scores as a sweet, awkward
counterpart. Oddly, the audience seems to find comedy where none exists. The
story is one of sadness and betrayal, so some of the directorial choices,
especially in the leads' facial expressions, seem askew. So are the children
who run inexplicably across the stage. They are disruptive and pointless.
The last Broadway revival of The Rose Tattoo was
1995 — and it may be because it pales in comparison to Williams’ masterpieces: The Glass Menagerie
and A Streetcar Named Desire.
American Airlines Theater, 227 West 42 St. Through
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes