Tennessee Williams’s “heart-breaking and heart-soaring” story, The Rose Tattoo, launches Bonnie J. Monte’s final season (33rd!) as Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. And Monte’s long-standing affinity for Williams’s work shines. A full cast of 16 adults and three children is rare these days and brings this beautifully conceived and executed production to life through June 18.
The Rose Tattoo, like Streetcar, focuses on two couples, Serafina Delle Rose (played brilliantly by Antoinette LaVecchia), haunted by memories of her dead husband, Rosario, and reluctant to capitulate to the outlandish wooing of Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Anthony Marble), a would-be suitor whose patronymic is even ridiculous. The physical comedy between them is laugh-out-loud perfect.
The other couple is Serafina’s 15-year-old daughter Rosa (Billie Wyatt) and her recently met sailor, Jack Hunter (Isaac Hickox-Young). Rosa is determined to be deflowered, despite the mores of her Sicilian community; Jack is tempted, but unwilling to risk decades in the brig. Their longing for each other is palpable.
In Serafina’s all-consuming grief, she stalwartly believes her lusty marriage was absolutely perfect. The audience knows better. Serafina also subscribes to a superstitious Catholicism and waits for the Virgin Mary to tell her what she should do with her life. These beliefs tether her to the past and warp her relationship with the here-and-now and with her daughter. Nosy neighbors, a hapless priest, and a malevolent “witch” are among the secondary characters who keep the plot racing along. Offstage, Sarafina’s garden is frequently threatened by a neighborhood goat—traditional symbol of unbridled lust—that continuously needs to be corralled, both literally and figuratively.
In all, The Rose Tattoo is a fine start to an exciting season! STNJ productions are hosted at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (easily reachable from NYC by train). For tickets, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit the Box Office online.