Re-evaluating the front row

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“The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”- Tennessee Williams

Another play on Broadway. Yes Beth you are the most cultured.

Oscar winning Olympia Dukakis plays the lead. As one of William’s kookiest heroines, Flora Goforth is a rich old Southern Belle who has survived her 4 husbands and is existing on a diet of coffee, codeine, cognac and cigarettes. In the summer of ’63, Goforth is frantically dictating her memoirs to her young exploited secretary, Blackie, who can be up night and day at her patron’s beck and call. Flora “Sissy” Goforth (the verbal surname chosen by Williams to imply her impending death) is living in a highly guarded and hardly attainable villa complex on a mountaintop in Italy. The only way to this secluded spot is a steep and dangerous goat path. There is no “Beware of Dogs” sign to warn off intruders and even if there were would it have deterred an ambiguous character in the form of Christopher Flanders from arriving uninvited? This “poet” Flanders has recently been acquiring a reputation as the “Angel of Death” as he does the rounds of visiting rich old (dying) women, acting as their final companion hoping to secure their money for the privilege. He met Ms Goforth, an attractive starlet, many years previously and comes a-calling this one last time.

Marquesa Constance Ridgeway-Condotti, known less than affectionately as the “Witch of Capri” is played in this performance by Edward Hibbert, whose utterly camp representation of Sissy’s nemesis and yet lifelong friend lends itself to some of the best dialogue in the piece. In one scene for example, he is invited to dinner and Sissy appears from her bedroom in a Japanese Kimono, complete with appropriate wig and accessories. She performs a ritualistic Kabuki dance with two fans and sporadic kicking of her legs, which leave the Witch and Blackie dumbfounded and the audience in hysterics. Completely out of her tree, Goforth is an incredibly entertaining train-wreck.

Post-Kabuki spectacle

The Witch has a wicked tongue and is eager to spread the gossip about Chris Flanders and his vocation for helping wealthy old women to die. But the competitive Sissy is too excited to show off her new young acquaintance and so keeps him as her guest despite the cruel warnings. He makes his attempts at her favour, wearing the silk robe she gave him with accompanying samurai sword, until the wary Goforth eventually gives in, possibly because of her loneliness or perhaps she is finally starting to accept her fate. In the closing scenes it appears that the Witch was right, but it is too late and she dies as Flanders relieves her of her jewellery.

Having forgotten to check on the plot beforehand using Wikipedia or the like, I was anxious that my latest visitor was going to be disappointed by my theatrical decisions. For the first 15 min the play was slow and one could say too cheesy. I sat wriggling in my chair hoping that my current choice was not going to be a flop. At least I had booked us FRONT ROW TICKETS I thought. At least FRONT ROW TICKETS on Broadway might make up for a dawdling play? Then Chris Flanders, recovering from a dog attack exits stage to take a shower. Poor thing is all cut and bleeding. He enters stage again sporting a small towel and proceeds to drop it immediately. OUCH. NO. FRONT ROW TICKETS. Poor guest. I am sorry guest. Far too much information Mr Flanders. Now I was agitated to say the least. My chum would probably not appreciate man bits wiggling about in his face. Not at this close proximity.

Oh well. Now sat bolt upright wishing and hoping for a fully clothed cast and witty wordplay I watched as the amusing tale unfolded. As the fans came out and the kimono danced in the wind of the Italian Riviera (on West 46th Street) I was delighted to hear my neighbour heartily laughing in his seat. Phew. Well done Olympia Dukakis. Thank you for a magnificent and hilarious performance. (wipes sweat off brow then exits stage left)

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