By Tennesee Williams
Directed by Jeffrey Mousseau
Coyote Theatre
Center for the Arts, Boston (617) 695-0659 Closed

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

Coyote Theatre, which operates out of the Boston Center for the Arts in the revitalized South End, specializes in the original and/or adventurous script. Coyote fills theatre seats with the kind of young ,diverse, urban audience larger companies only dream about, come to see productions such as "The Colored Museum" and "Club XII", the company's updated rock version of " Twelfth Night". For his first production of 1996, however, artistic director Jeffrey Mousseau took a step back into the past, reviving five Tennessee Williams one-acts under the collective title "Like the Rain".

What turns out to be surprising about these plays is how modern they seem, and how much they have to say to diverse urban young on the road to deracination. It is almost as if some deconstructing mosaicisist had clipped out emblematic scenes from some old-fashioned Tennesee Williams plays, and arranged them to illustrate and challenge current assumptions about what's old and what's new.

The Coyote unit set is spare and neutral, the better to show that Williams has sealed each play with a color and an atmosphere of its own. There's no generalized Tennessee Williams Southern style here, so that even when the script is familiar, Mousseau's touch--- uncluttered, brisk, astringent, stoic-- turns a new side of it toward the light.

In "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow", Kirsten Wold's dying spinster pushes away her tongue-tied suitor, an ineffectual high school math teacher from out of town. The "man" (Luis Astudillo) lives alone in a transient hotel and has at this point no other link left to the world of the living except Wold's "woman". Astudillo is from Chile, and his accent proves to be an asset here, underlining the character's outsider status. Wold takes her lines at a brisk pace, as if she had to finish her earthly business as quickly as possible, and this efficiency lashes against Astudillo's' courtliness. The way Astudillo inclines his head towards the lady as she chides him, his eyes downcast but glancing up at her from time to time to see if she has softened, is a study in silent eloquence.

"A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot" provides comic relief. Two aging party girls-- or, as they might describe themselves, "ladies, who are also good sports"-- stop in a cafe to rest their feet and revive their spirits. Bessie (Charlotte Peed) and Flora (Rose Liberace) are on the prowl for stray Sons of Mars. They want to latch on to gentlemen to squire them about town and show them a good time during the annual Sons of Mars convention. They've been doing this for more years than it would be polite to remember, and are acutely aware that the line between a lady and a tramp is a thin one. A matter of style. Jaunty picture hats in lime green and shocking pink, flower-printed challis shirtwaist dresses, faux pearls and short gloves in almost-coordinated bilious green and raspberry pink speak volumes. As Bessie and Flora alternately dish and commiserate with each other over glasses of cheap beer, plotting their comic moves in the game of romance, behind them looms a larger, darker image: Blanche Dubois

"This Property Is Condemned" has taken on fresh resonance in the age of AIDS. Willie is a twelve year old girl who has inherited her dead sister's tawdry finery and aspires to attain her sister's position as "the main attraction" for railroad men in the family boarding house where the sister presided until she took sick and died. I remember thinking of Willie as an exotic creature when I first encountered her, more than a generation ago. Dying from TB, or from a sexually transmitted disease, was something that happened long ago and far away, wasn't it? And in our enlightened society social agencies protect little girls!

Laura Lee Shink, who plays Willie, is a tall woman, which makes it hard for her to be physically convincing as a twelve year old. Probably it for this reason that she chose to concentrate most of her acting in her childish voice. Shink emphasized the playful and forlorn aspects of the character, and avoided trying to incorporate precocious sexuality. The hooker look in heavy make up is so popular among young teens these days that it may have lost its power to shock. For this production, grotesque smears of color were used instead of a exaggeration attempt at a movie-star's seductiveness. This clown mask cost Shink some of her facial expressiveness, and also made Willie's downward course seem less inevitable. Liam Sullivan did very little with the boy, Tom -- which seems exactly right. Tom shares more traits with author Williams than his childhood name. Tom in "This Property" is mainly an ear and an eye, sympathetic but at the same time ruthlessly avid for forbidden knowledge.

"Hello From Bertha" is one more version of the same old story-- the last days of a desperate woman who has sold her sexual favors. Kristen Wold takes Bertha full-tilt, shrieking and clawing and shaking in fevered excitement, then dropping into exhaustion. Charlotte Peed plays Goldie, the not unsympathetic madam.

"Talk To Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen", the final piece, is an ode to despair, spoken -- almost as monologues -- by a pair of lovers in a cheap hotel room. It is a world of pain: the cool purifying pain of isolation and peace, which is a kind of slow death; or the feverish and filthy pain of connection without tenderness, of sex and alcohol and drugs and casual cruelty. The haunting image is of a naked drunk waking up in a bathtub full of melting ice cubes. Luis Astudillo and Rose Liberace were very fine in this, letting Williams' pain flow through them and into the audience with rare tact and grace.