Baby Doll Review - Sex, Sensuality, and Sin in the South

Based on the 1956 Academy Award-nominated film by Tennessee Williams, BABY DOLL has been adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann. BABY DOLL premieres on the West Coast at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in its first-ever Williams Estate-approved stage adaptation of the Williams screenplay.

Lindsay LaVanchy as Baby Doll - Photo by Ed Krieger

An intriguing tale of prejudice, sexual politics, and unbridled passion, BABY DOLL stars Lindsay LaVanchy as Baby Doll, a 19-year-old virgin bride who must consummate her marriage in two days – on her twentieth birthday – in exchange for the comfortable life promised her by her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee (John Prosky). Aunt Rose Comfort (Karen Kondazian) holds the house together as poverty and depression increase. Tension ramps up when Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business; and his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro (Daniel Bess), arrives to seek revenge. Right in the center of the chaos is Baby Doll, both player and pawn. Desire and desperation mingle as sexual tensions overheat and innocence fades.

Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky - Photo by Ed Krieger

At the heart of the drama is Williams’ Mississippi Delta roots, where wealthy Southern paternalism mingled with extreme poverty and the wave of hardworking immigrants who arrived during the Great Depression. Between 1935 and 1979, Williams examined the characters of Baby Doll, Archie Lee Meighan, Silva Vacarro, and Aunt Rose Comfort across several short stories and one-act plays. This backdrop preceded Williams’ 1956 screenplay for the film version of “Baby Doll.”

Karen Kondazian and Daniel Bess - Photo by Ed Krieger

One of Williams’ strengths as a playwright was his ability to brilliantly delineate his female characters, and Baby Doll was no exception. From a dependent, child-like waif who has little to no grasp of her own motivations, Baby Doll grows and develops as her awareness of her own sensuality and sexuality also leads to developing maturity and self-awareness. Unfortunately, there is little character growth in the other principals in the theatre adaptation of BABY DOLL. They remains one-dimensional: what you see is what you get. With the material presented, the cast does an adequate job of formulating the characters. However, at times, both Baby Doll and Aunt Rose seem to be intellectually challenged. Perhaps innocence and simplicity became confused with simple-mindedness – at least in the earlier portions of the play. Director Simon Levy has obviously tried to remain faithful to Williams’ original concept.

Daniel Bess and Lindsay LaVanchy - Photo by Ed Krieger

Jeffrey McLaughlin’s scenic design is brilliant and manages to grasp the underlying poverty and arid quality of the environment. Ken Booth’s lighting design, Peter Bayne’s sound, and Terri A. Lewis’ costumes enhance the static and intrinsically hopeless elements of the tale.  Overall, BABY DOLL is an excellent 80-minute introduction to Williams’ South.

 

BABY DOLL runs through 9/25/16 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays, and at 8 p.m. on Mondays. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $15 to $35, with every Monday a pay-what-you-can performance. For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online

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