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Green Eyes: Steamy, Intimate Play

Company One stages Tennessee Williams in Boston hotel

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Tennessee Williams’ Green Eyes starts with a tousled young newlywed fixing her wide eyes on the audience and saying in a come-hither drawl, “Welcome to my honeymoon.”

She means it. The new Company One production of the one-act play, written in 1970 but discovered as a series of rough drafts after the playwright’s death, is being staged in a room at Boston’s Ames Hotel. With seating limited to 25, the compact audience takes on an intimate, almost voyeuristic role in this psychosexual drama that is also part mystery. As the just-married Mr. and Mrs. Claude Dunphy, performance artist Erin Markey and costar Alan Brincks tease, tussle, and hurl abuse at each other in, on, and around a queen-size bed not more than an extended leg’s distance from the front row.

“We’ve wanted to do a site-specific piece for a while, but it had to be the right show,” says Mason Sand (CFA’13), a founder, actor, producer, and educator with Company One, a resident theater company at the Boston Center for the Arts. Now in its 13th season, the group recently became a core partner in the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre Professional Theatre Initiative, a collaboration between the school and professional theater companies. Green Eyes was a perfect choice,” says Sand, who is pursuing a master’s in theater education at CFA, “because Tennessee Williams appeals to traditional theatergoers, but because of the nature of the show and the production, there’s also a strong draw for the younger crowd.”

Directed by Travis Chamberlain and with the same cast, the “lost” erotic thriller drew rave reviews when it premiered in New York last year and was chosen among the “Best Theatre of 2011” by New Yorker drama critic John Lahr. Green Eyes was first published in 2008, 25 years after Williams’ death. A Brooklyn artist known for her one-woman show Puppy Love: A Stripper’s Tail, Markey dazzled audiences in the New York production of Green Eyes. The New York Times praised her potrayal of her character as “a kittenish vixen whose sexual pliancy hides an iron will.” Brincks’ credits include Iago in a modern production of Shakespeare’s Othello, with the characters portrayed as returning Afghanistan war veterans.

In Green Eyes, Brincks’ character, a soldier on leave from combat duty in Vietnam, and Markey’s, a woman accustomed to male worship, engage in an almost balletic struggle punctuated by rare, fleeting moments of tenderness. Their nearly bare bodies (audience members must be 18 or older) tell part of the story—his dog tags from a war that has left him jumpy and paranoid, her bruises and bite marks that are the plot’s driving mystery. Made over as a cheap hotel on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, the room’s bamboo walls and velvet tiger painting make it a metaphorical turn on Dunphy’s jungle war zone. The main props are a radio, a pack of cigarettes, and a bottle of bourbon, which is drained over the course of the play’s conjugal combat. Just 50 minutes long and laced with tense pauses, the proceedings, which include the pair managing to summon a room service breakfast, circle the central question: what happened last night?

Although it’s fairly certain Mrs. Dunphy left her soused spouse at a French Quarter bar in the early morning hours, the questions of whom she actually met or didn’t meet, what she did or didn’t do to earn those bruises, and whether or not she enjoyed whatever happened, are unresolved. The audience is left to ponder the degree of her veracity and his drunkenness as the pair, crash-landing from what Mrs. Dunphy describes as a “whirlwind marriage,” reveal some discouraging truths.

Green Eyes runs through Sunday, February 12, at the Ames Hotel, One Court Street, Boston. By public transportation, take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center and switch to a Blue Line outbound train. Get off at the State Street stop. The hotel is across the street. Performances are at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased here, or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

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Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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