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Rose Tattoo


The Rose Tattoo, Tennessee Williams’ 1950 drama has received a disappointing production by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre in New York. It boasts of having the star-power attraction of Marisa Tomei in the role of Serafina Delle Rose. According to Williams, she is a plump little Italian living in a village populated mostly by Sicilians along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile.

The politest thing one can say is that she is simply miscast in the role. Ms Tomei is neither small nor plump. She is a beautiful woman who would never settle for a nobody like Alvano (Emun Elliott) after the death of her husband. She idolizes her husband Rosario and is deeply in love with him while worshipping the Madonna and being very superstitious. We never see her husband but he turns out to have been working for criminals and is killed. What’s worse, Serafina’s idol had a mistress in the village. Everybody knew about it except her.

Tomei can do the histrionics that are part of her character but she can only manage an atrocious Italian accent that added with her looks moves her away from the Serafina of the play.

Elliott is even worse as Alvano Mangiacavallo, the truck driver who, as I said, is attracted to Serafina after she becomes a widow. He is a buffoon as Serafina describes him, but what kind of a buffoon? Elliott is an American who tries to hide his native accent and impose an Italian inflection on his speech. He fails miserably and the character is left hanging between being an American with a bad Italian accent or an Italian who is trying to speak proper English.

Ella Rubin as Serafina’s 15-year old daughter Rosa and Burke Swanson as her boyfriend Jack are refreshingly fine in their roles. The women of the village who drop by Serafina’s place are necessary minor characters. Tina Benko makes a very alluring Estelle Hohengarten, the blonde with whom Rosario has an affair until his untimely death. She orders a shirt from the seamstress Serafina to give to someone who turns out to be her lover who happens to be none other than Rosario, Serafina’s husband.

Director Trip Cullman has done away with a number of characters and scenes from the play and there is no issue with that.

The set designed by Mark Wendland and the video projection designed by Lucy Mackinnon are quite dramatic. Serafina’s house backs to the Gulf with the water and waves visible on all three sides of the stage. The surging waves, no doubt symbolic of Serafina’s and Alvaro’s rising passion are marvelous with the small caveat that on the day I saw the performance they were not working very well. And I am not sure about the crowd of plastic flamingos on the edge of the water.

Cullman adds some songs and music by Fitz Patton which did nothing for the production.

The Rose Tattoo has a great deal of humor and we did get a few laughs but the production was spotty and never managed to bring out the comedy and the passion coherently and convincingly. A disappointing night at the theatre.   


The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams in a production by Roundabout Theatre Company continues until December 8, 2019 at the American Airlines Theatre,  227 West 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/  

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