Tennessee Williams does not write short plays. He does not write plays that are easily digested and he does not write plays that are meant solely to amuse. His characters are not simple, though they may appear so when first introduced.
Small Craft Warnings is a typically strong Tennessee Williams play. It is a long, exhaustive, uncomfortably close look at 9 of the saddest creatures you would expect to find in a small-time bar in a slow seaside town. I found myself laughing at times, sometimes unsure if I was laughing at the situation, the characters, or my own unsettling familiarity with the two.
The characters are each introduced as recognizable archetypes- big, brassy-mouthed woman; testosterone-fueled oaf of a man; 2 tense gay men; pathetic and spineless slob; thin, beautiful, mentally touched slut; old, alcoholic, depressed doctor who continues to practice illegally; friendly bartender who tries to hold the pieces together.
With brassy Leona taking the human form of the storm outside, the audience is forced to endure the same venom and crass that the woman lashes out against everyone in the bar. We learn through the bar fights and the whispers and the cries of the bar patrons why none of these characters want to go home. Some of these characters are physically unwell, some have had death touch them, some are losing what they once had. Some don’t even know what it is that they want in the first place.
All are lonely.
Small Craft Warnings is a study in loneliness and where it can take a person. Some fall in to desperation, some panic, some flee. All are alive, if only barely.
As Williams said in a 1973 interview, “I wouldn’t say death is my main them, Loneliness is.”
At The Workshop Theater Company - Mainstage Theater. 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor. Through October 5th. www.smarttix.com