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The Rise of a ‘Baby Doll’

at the Fountain Theatre

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Well, what with the solid production at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble of the seldom seen Kingdom of Earth, and now the Fountain Theatre’s staging of Baby Doll, hard core fans of Tennessee Williams must be thinking they’ve died and gone for gumbo in the bayou.

Now myself I’m inclined, on both productions, to echo the words of the great English critic Samuel Johnson, “Worth seeing, yes. Worth going to, no.”

But both productions at the Odyssey and the Fountain present admirers of Williams’ writing and serious students of theatre, golden opportunities they should not let slip by them.

And in the case of Baby Doll, the opportunity extends to film buffs as well.

During the 1950s, Williams had seen many of his stage works successfully adapted for the screen. Baby Doll (1956); however, was his first original film script. Cannibalizing a pair of his early one act plays, Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton and The Long Stay Cut Short, Williams patched together a shaggy dog tale seething with repressed sexual violence and brutality; a thinly veiled morality play blatantly flaunting madness, deceit and a bent eroticism.

The film brought Williams together again with director Elia Kazan and actor Karl Malden both of whom had worked on his previous film, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). Williams had wanted Marilyn Monroe for the script’s central character, the naive childlike nymphet and arch-typical “virgin whore” Baby Doll, but Kazan wanted Carroll Baker, and so it was her photo, coiled in an old fashion baby crib, her thumb settled between her parted lips that was featured in the film’s ad blitz.

The film’s poor box office was blamed on being denounced as the “dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited” by Time magazine and receiving condemnation by the Legion of Decency. In truth, the movie itself did not have much box office appeal. It was primarily the iconic and controversial poster featuring Baker wearing the scanty lingerie that would henceforth bear the name of “baby doll” that would be responsible for both the business the film did and the condemnation it attracted, even being banned by some European countries.

Baker would be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award and Williams for Best Adapted Screenplay, but neither would win. In the 1970’s Williams would write the play Tiger Tail based on his screenplay which along with In the Bar of A Tokyo Hotel and The Mutilated is among his least staged works.

Today the film is mainly appreciated as a “camp classic” though Karl Malden and Baker’s performances still stand up, and of local interest Lonnie Chapman, as in the valley’s Lonnie Chapman Theatre, has a minor role in the film. But frankly, sixty years after the fact, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was over.

Baby Doll at The Fountain (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Daniel Bess, Lindsay LaVanchy, Karen Kondazian, John Prosky (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Pierre Laville and Emily Mann have adapted Williams’ screenplay for the stage, confining the setting to just the dilapidated home of the crude and unctuous Archie (the eminent John Prosky), who Baby Doll (Lindsay Lavanchy) was married off to by her dying father, on the stipulation that the marriage not be consummated until Baby Doll’s twentieth birthday, which is mere days away. They have also streamlined the action to just the central “lust triangle” between Archie and Baby Doll and Silva (Daniel Bess) the supervisor of a modern gin mill recently built directly across from the cheap mill Archie operates.

Prosky provides the violence, Bess and Lavanchy the chest heaving erotic sultriness, and Karen Kondazian as Baby Doll’s addled Aunt Rose supplies the madness.

Violence, sex and madness what more could you want?

Well, a sound production and skillful direction for a start and you have those here.

Simon Levy, the Producing Director at the Fountain knows his craft, so the play moves faster than a carpetbagger trying to get out of Memphis before midnight.

The actors are all top caliber so there’s no complaint in that department.

The worst thing that can be said of this show, is that it’s a first class production of a second rate play.

But it must be said, a second rate play by Tennessee Williams beats the first rate plays of most of today’s writers by a country mile.

But if it’s “first class” through and though you’re interested in then mark down Sunday August 28th on your calendars.

Yep, its time for Forever Flamenco, the Fountain’s long running celebration of the classic Spanish dance, and what I keep telling anyone who’ll listen, is one of the best tickets in this town.

Reyes Barrios directs the evening and will also be dancing with the amazing Timo Nuñez and Daniela Zermeño. Singer Jesús Montoya and guitarist Andres Vadin will also be adding their talents to the evening. So go prepared to have your breath taken away.

Due to the rustic set of Baby Doll leaving little room for the swirling of the dancers, the performance of the 28th will be hosted by the Odyssey Theatre. Show time is 8:00.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fountain Theatre presents West Coast premiere
of ‘Baby Doll’ by Tennessee Williams

Previews: July 24 – July 27
Performances: July 28 – Sept. 25

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)

For More Information and Additional Information:
(323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com

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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, Among the Vipers was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest's stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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