Where the hell is Tennessee? You'll never miss Mr. Williams more than when exiting the tiny auditorium at The New Theatre, fresh from a new production of the great man's breakthrough play. If you don't know, Menagerie follows a few days in the life of the Wingfield family — a fatherless trio consisting of one overbearing and blustery Southern matriarch, who uses her gentry manners to cover up her fear of destitution; one painfully shy young spinster-in-the-making with a slight deformity in her leg; and one restless son-cum-narrator who wants to write books and seek adventure in the Merchant Marines, but is stuck supporting his mother and sister in a dead-end warehouse job. The specifics of the plot are unimportant. What matters is how Tennessee Williams uses a pedestrian dinner party at the Wingfield house as a launching point for deep, haunting investigations into familial responsibility, economic dislocation, loneliness, and bad faith. Another thing that matters: Angie Radosh, who plays the frightened spinster daughter as well as she's ever been played. It is possible that she's the one actor in the production born before Tennessee choked to death on a bottle cap in 1983. Taken together, her performance plus Tennessee's script can't help but make you think: Damn! They don't make them like they used to.
The second part of John Patrick Shanley's in-the-works "D" trilogy, after the famous Doubt, Defiance is equally ambiguous and far earthier. The difference is that Doubt had nuns, while Defiance has soldiers: gritty men who must make a choice between their principles and their careers, and who will surely hate themselves should they choose the latter. Thanks to Shanley's humility, director Joe Adler's recently rediscovered knack for understatement, and a blisteringly talented cast, Defiance is as lifelike as trompe l'oeil. It seems less like a play than like an honorable exercise in audience voyeurism, through which we observe the achingly private trials of the inhabitants of North Carolina's Camp Lejeune, where racial strife is destroying troop conduct, morale, and ultimately soldiers' marriages. Note especially the performances of Reiss Gaspard (who, in his first major starring role, plays conflicted Captain King with a beautiful tortured dignity) and Paul Tei (who disappears so completely into the role of Chaplain White that it took me two scenes to recognize him, even though I've known the guy for two years).