With its religious idolatry, white dress purity, red rose lust, and Sicilian superstition, Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo is an unlikely comedy. It’s a stylised play of super-sized emotions.
In Trip Cullman’s production, Marisa Tomei plays the recently widowed Serafina, a once proud and boastful woman, now falling apart with grief. Tomei vibrates in the role, as if her body might catch alight with the depth of her feeling for her late husband and then for bumbling truck driver Alvaro (Emun Elliott), to whom she transfers her affections. Elliott matches her verve with charming buffoonery.
These characters may be foolish and hapless, but their faith and their pain are real. Unfortunately Cullman plays up the farce so much that a lot of the play’s nuance is lost.
Tomei and Elliott excel at screwball comedy. The sexual tension builds between them as they move from sheepish hesitancy and goofy awkwardness to barely concealed attraction. Their romantic fumblings are the show’s high point; everything around them pales in comparison.
Mark Wendland’s design is dominated by giant projections of big sky and tumbling waves, paired with a field of sculpted pink flamingos; these all feel too sleek and modern. A chorus of Sicilian women sing mournful songs throughout, but they are poorly incorporated into the production. Clint Ramos’ costumes establish the 1950s era but the next-door-neighbour “strega” is dressed like a pirate from SpongeBob. An adorable child inexplicably plays a pesky goat.
Serafina eventually finds her way, but the same can’t be said of this perplexing production.