Curtain Calls

Review: 'Period of Adjustment'
Little-known Tennessee Williams comedy gets lively staging at Blackbird Theatre

Mention to the average theatergoer that Tennessee Williams wrote a comedy, and the response you get is either hysterical laughter or a blank stare. But sure enough, the great American dramatist did indeed write a comedy, although it's not often produced. There's a reason for that, of course: "Period of Adjustment" is not one of his greatest works – but neither is it a stinker.
Rather, written in the later years of his career, "Period of Adjustment" ranks among his more middling efforts.
Even an average Tennessee Williams script has much to offer, however, and Director Lynch Travis proves that point with his thoughtful and engaging production at Ann Arbor's Blackbird Theatre.
Much of what Williams is famous for made its way into the story: There's the dominating mother, the frigid daughter and sexual frustration; there's a Southern belle, lusty men and suppressed emotions; and there's a little boy – never seen – whose sexuality is already questioned at the tender age of three.
But more importantly, Williams' script is filled with clearly defined characters that spout razor-sharp dialogue. His characters' emotions are always bubbling close to the surface, and they erupt at a moment's notice.
In fact, they explode almost at the start of the production!
War hero Ralph Bates answers the door on Christmas Eve, 1959 expecting to find his best friend George Haverstick, III with his new bride. Instead, there's only Isabel who, after only 24 hours of marriage, tearfully believes she's been abandoned on his doorstep.
The wedding night, it seems, was a total disaster. But so is Ralph's life at the moment: After announcing earlier that day that he quit his job, Dorthea, his wife, took their son and moved back home with her parents. Complicating matters is this: Ralph's boss was Dorthea's father!
George eventually shows, but only after Ralph and Isabel discover an attraction to one another that each seemingly lacks for their spouse.
Can the honeymooners resolve their differences and get on with their marriage? Or will the two newly single men move to Texas where they plan to raise cattle for TV westerns?
Although billed as a comedy, Williams fills his script with much darkness – a familiar territory for the playwright. What detracts from the story, however, is an inherent absurdity to the situation and how it's eventually – and far too quickly – resolved.
Travis – a brave director for tackling this script – obviously understood its challenges. His staging is crisp; his pacing flows with the story's peaks and valleys. As such, there's never a dull moment in his production.
Likewise, Travis' actors are well suited for their roles.
Matt Pinnard (Ralph) and Russ Hedberg (George) play well off each other. Hedberg deserves extra praise for never losing the nervous shake that underlies his character's emotional state. (Pinnard, however, needs to work on keeping his voice under control whenever his character gets angry; the screechy tone needs to come down a few notches.)
Kathleen Orr gives a slick performance as the once-ugly duckling Dorthea, while Courtney Myers has many memorable moments as Isabel. (Just one minor note for Myers: Concentrate more on enunciation than speed in a few of your scenes, otherwise the audience will continue to lose some of your funny lines!)
The best performance of the evening, however, belongs to Linda Hammill who plays Dorthea's over-the-top, drill sergeant-like mother, Mrs. MacGillicuddy. She storms the stage in Act Three and takes no prisoners – and the audience loves every minute of it!
"Period of Adjustment" Staged Thursday through Sunday by BlackBag Productions at the Blackbird Theatre, 1600 Pauline Blvd., Ann Arbor, through Nov. 20. Tickets: $17. 734-332-3848.
The Bottom Line: A so-so script by Tennessee Williams gets an energetic and thoroughly enjoyable staging courtesy of BlackBag Productions.

Tidbits: News from around town
Artist Prize winners announced; MBT auction; and good news at PRTC

ITEM: Two artists with longtime connections to Michigan's theater community were among the three winners of the first-ever E. Ray Scott Michigan Artist Prize, ArtServe Michigan recently announced.
Named in honor of the first executive director of the Michigan Council for the Arts, the prize was created this year to honor Michigan artists who have earned a reputation for excellence and who have contributed significantly to cultural life in the state. Winners receive a monetary award of $3,000.
Council Cargle, who is currently lighting up the stage at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre with his performance in "I'm Not Rappaport," said of his award, "It was a great surprise to me to be considered. I think the award is not only encouraging, but it makes you feel that the avenue or path you chose was not in vane."
Ken Stevens, a curriculum and honors advisor in the Arts Management Department at Eastern Michigan University, shares similar feelings. "I am terribly honored because E. Ray was one of the first people who helped me when I first arrived in Michigan from Cincinnati in 1972. I find this award personally rewarding."
Curtain Calls congratulates both men for their considerable accomplishments and contributions to Michigan's cultural life!
ITEM: If you've always wanted to be in the spotlight but didn't want to waste time studying theater in school, why not buy your way on stage?
How? Simply go to and participate in Meadow Brook Theatre's Silent Night Auction where you'll find six opportunities to join the cast of its upcoming production of "A Christmas Carol."
The highest bidder and a guest will appear in all street scenes of a particular performance, plus receive two tickets to that performance for family or friends.
All accepted bids are 100% tax-deductible; non-accepted bids will be entered into a raffle to win tickets to the show.
The deadline for submitting bids is Nov. 24. "A Chrismas Carol" runs Nov. 26 through Dec. 26 at the theater in Rochester Hills.
For complete information, go online to or call 248-377-3300.
ITEM: Success continues to shine on Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre Company.
Not only is its smash hit comedy, "Duck Hunter Shoots Angel" moving to Detroit's City Theatre for a 10-week run this month, the American Theatre Critics Association recently nominated "Leaving Iowa" – the Tim Clue and Spike Manton comedy that received its world premiere performance at PRTC this past January – for its ACTA/Steinberg New Play Award.
Six new play finalists will be chosen in January; three New Play winners will be announced in April during the Humana Festival in Louisville, KY.
"Leaving Iowa" is the fourth PRTC world premiere production to be nominated for this prestigious award since 1998. The production, which received two 2004 Wilde Award nomination, broke both sales records and attendance records to become PRTC's best-selling winter production.
Congratulations to everyone involved with this production; we'll be rootin' for ya!


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