Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

The Rose Tattoo
Tennessee Williams Festival of St. Louis

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's reviews of Brontë Sister House Party and Locked Ward

Rayme Cornell (front) and
Bradley Tejeda

Photo by Suzy Gorman Photography
You could easily be forgiven for thinking Tennessee Williams (or at least director David Kaplan, in this case) is just messing with you, halfway through a sleek new staging of Williams' play The Rose Tattoo. It's the centerpiece of this summer's Tennessee Williams Festival of St. Louis. The 1951 play wants to take flight early on, with its choreographed, spinning window units. But then it develops into a fairly serious domestic dispute involving a widowed mother, her teenage daughter, and a young sailor who's passing through. The Rose Tattoo was most recently revived on Broadway in 2019.

But now, under the weirdly ingenious direction of Mr. Kaplan, it all turns into something delightfully different. Late in the action, high-wire aerialists swing overhead, halfway up into the big-top tent that's home to Circus Flora: flying together and apart, gymnasts dressed like the girl and the sailor tie themselves up in long red ribbons of fabric, as the young lovers play out their final scene below. It's as if Williams himself had finally decided to capture the dance of life, as something other than madness and despair. In this case, the author of The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the clever old grandpa who snatches your nose away and pulls a penny out of your ear. It's magic.

It's also largely due to actor Bradley Tejeda as Alvaro, a truck driver likewise passing through who (brilliantly, improbably) transforms himself into a wailing, Sicilian twin of Charlie Chaplin (albeit with a wider mustache). This, after a single intermission, as he attempts to make love to Serafina, the widowed mother, lovingly played by Rayme Cornell. You get little clues well in advance that this is all heading into dreamland (whimsical set pieces with fairytale window slats that spin around Miss Cornell, as circus animals are led through). But it is also quite remarkable to see the Little Tramp come to life before your very eyes, bit by bit. And bit by bit.

A condom on stage that sparked a police raid in an Irish revival in 1957 still drops out of Alvaro's pocket here. But this time it's a long green party clown's balloon. And then he pulls out another balloon, which becomes a giant phallus to chase Serafina around her home, on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi in a Sicilian enclave. Shortly before, she is finally reawakened as a woman.

Until that strange and blissful moment, every little scrap of tissue that Alvaro steps on threatens to send him flying into a back flip. And he's elsewhere tragic and bathetic, wailing over his broken life. The end result of this piece of Williams' work still (predictably) exposes the lies that cover up a basic human instinct. But this time we look back to see his artistic theme, the sexual revolution, with its lions and lion tamers, and Tinkerbells and clowns, in all his plays, was really just one big circus after all.

Valentina Silva is a perfect force of nature as Serafina's daughter, Rosa Delle Rosa, and Oliver Bacus is handsome and heartfelt as her suitor, Jack Hunter. Rachel Fox is loads of fun as a sexual wildcard, a blackjack dealer from Texas. There's fine work by Carmen Garcia as the mother's confidant. And from Harry Weber, playing both Father de Leo and the schoolmistress Miss Yorke. With that line-up, how could it not be a Felliniesque fantasy in the end?

It's an irresistible reimagining of a piece from a revered but largely static work, for which renovation seemed long overdue. It may also presage other ways of looking at some of the great playwright's lesser-known shows, which often faced withering criticism in their original, fourth-wall stagings.

He invited us into his mind. Maybe it's time we went inside.

The Rose Tattoo runs through August 28, 2022, at the Tennessee Williams Festival of St. Louis, 3401 Washington Ave., a block east of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information please visit

Serafina Delle Rose: Rayme Cornell*
Alvaro Mangiacavallo: Bradley Tejeda*
Rosa Delle Rosa: Valentina Silva
Estelle Hohengarten: Rachel Fox*
Jack Hunter: Oliver Bacus
The Strega: Holly Maffitt
Assunta: Carmen Garcia
Bessie: Julia Crump
Flora: Tyler White
The Salesman/A Doctor: Mitchell-Henry Eagles
Miss Yorke/Father de Leo: Harry Weber
Singer: Tony Viviano
Swings: John T. Moore, Abby Bottleson, Allie Thornton
Rehearsal Assistant: Hannah Geisz
Goats: Belle, Junebug, Orabelle and Zest
Horse: Prince
Aerialists: Annika Capellupo, Natalie Bednarski, Sage McGhee, Maggie McGinnis

Production Staff
Director: David Kaplan
Stage Manager: J.M. Bock*
Assistant Stage Manager: J. Myles Hesse
Set Design: James Wolk
Costume Design: Michele Friedman Siler
Sound Design: Nick Hime
Lighting Design: Jesse Alford
Props Manager: Gwynneth Rausch
Assistant Props Manager: Emma Glose
Wardrobe Manager/Wig Designer: Abby Pastorello
Aerial: On the Fly Productions
Owner/Aerial Choreography: Jason Whicker
Owner/Producer: Jennifer Ragan
Studio Coordinator: Sherie Ragan
Flight Ace/Exec Assistant: Josh Sarris
Flight Coordinator/Coach: Ashley Ellerman
Coach: Colleen Marie Patton
Coach: Mariel Reynold
Ground: Noah Fredrickson
Technical Director: Brian Macke
Master Electrician: Tony Anselmo
Sound Engineer: Nick Hime
Sound Board Operator: Nick Hime
Horse Handler: Marta Tobler
House Manager: Elizabeth Frei
Casting: Carrie Houk, CSA

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association