Let me admit something up front -- even though I'm a total theater geek, I'm not a 'festival guy.' Every year The Fringe Festival in NYC comes and goes, and I barely pay attention. So please feel free to take what I have to say about His Greatness, a play by Daniel MacIvor receiving its US premiere with a grain of salt.
Having said that, theater is theater, right? So it shouldn't matter that I'm not a 'festival guy,' right? Right?
His Greatness is "based on a potentially true story" about "two days in the last years of the life of playwright Tennessee Williams," as the famous playwright drinks, does drugs, suffers scathing reviews, emotionally abuses his co-dependent assistant and sleeps with a hustler, whom he fancies will become his new muse. "Potentially" is the key word in that press release blurb -- all slander issues are sideswiped but not actually naming the lead character "Tennessee." Though Arthur Miller is name-checked, and Edward Albee is quoted, Williams is never called by name in the show, and is referred in the program only as "the Playwright." Got it?
Williams is certainly a complex enough historical personality to be worthy of exploration, but unfortunately this show just doesn't do him justice (and not just because there are repeated mentions of him shitting his pants when he's drunk). What we learn here is that he drinks, is emotionally tortured and possibly insane -- something anyone with a cursory knowledge of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof could probably gather. I had heard rumblings that there was controversial material here, but aside from the fact that it paints Williams in a rather depressingly sad light, and features a young hustler in red underwear (see photo above), there wasn't much titillation happening onstage at the Cherry Lane Theater. Though I am a fan of Williams, and am interested in the man behind Maggie the Cat and Blanche du Bois, the general feeling I walked away with was "who cares?"
I can't blame the actors for my apathy -- Peter Goldfarb (as Williams), Dan Domingues (as The Assistant) and Michael Busillo are certainly game, but they can't overcome the tepid material. Goldfarb's accent goes in and out, and he doesn't bear much of a resemblance to the playwright, but other than that he's totally competent (if a bit one-note), as are Busillo and Domingues. And though Tom Gualtieri's direction isn't horrible, he doesn't do much to enhance the material. If you're looking for a Williams fix, read one of his plays -- they are sexier, more human and much more complex than this show about his a couple of days at the end of his life.
Now back to my un-Festival-ness -- the sold-out audience I was with seemed to very much enjoy the show. Is it perhaps because many of them are frequent Festival-goers, and His Greatness, while no major work, exceeds most of the dreck they've seen in quality? Who knows? But as I've said, feel free to take this review with a grain of salt. Just don't "wage war" on this critic, as the young hustler suggests Williams does after his play gets panned in Vancouver -- I won't care enough to fight.