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'Baby Doll' joins the cavalcade of L.A. productions marking Tennessee Williams' centennial (updated)

April 8, 2011 |  6:00 pm

BabyDollCarrollBakerEliWallach
The Tennessee waltz continues to be danced on area stages in conjunction with this year’s centennial of the playwright born Thomas Lanier Williams III on March 26, 1911.

Stepping up with the latest announced revival is the Elephant Theatre Company, which won’t be presenting one of Williams' plays, but rather a staging of his Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the steamy 1956 film, “Baby Doll.”  The show will run Nov. 11-Dec. 14 at the Lillian Theatre, with Joel Daavid directing.

Williams’ script revolves around a struggling Mississippi cotton mill owner (played on screen by Karl Malden) who chafes while waiting to consummate his two-year marriage to the maddeningly flirtatious teenage bride (Carroll Baker in the film) who insists on waiting until her impending 20th birthday. Enter an Italian immigrant business rival (Eli Wallach, pictured with Baker) whose designs on Baby Doll are both sexual and financial.

Williams’ screenplay, decried at the time as filth in some quarters, expanded on his 1946 one-act play “27 Wagons Full of Cotton.” For you theater trivia buffs, a then-unknown Meryl Streep played Baby Doll in a 1976 Broadway staging of the play, earning a Tony nomination while  “lolling and luxuriating in her body as if it were a warm bath,” as a Village Voice reviewer put it. Well, her body, with a hidden assist, given that Williams’ script specified a zaftig one for Baby Doll: “I was very fat,” Streep recalled for Ms. Magazine a few years later. “I had all kinds of padding and prosthetic breasts.”

KarenKondazianTimes In other Williams centennial news, Phoenix Rising Productions has announced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled West Coast premiere of “Tennessee & Anna,” a new drama about the playwright’s long friendship with actress Anna Magnani.  The reason given in a press release is “creative differences that…could not be resolved in time.” Refunds are available from the Odyssey Theatre, where Franco D’Alessandro’s play was to be a guest production starring Morlan Higgins and Karen Kondazian. The producers say they aim for the show to go on in the fall.

Kondazian (pictured at right), a veteran of many a Williams role, once related to The Times the rather remarkable tale of her first meeting with the playwright in 1978, when she was playing the lead in “The Rose Tattoo” at the Beverly Hills Playhouse –- the role for which Magnani won the best-actress Oscar in the 1955 film of Williams’ play.

"We were at a luncheon honoring Tennessee hosted by the L.A. Drama Critics Circle, and he kept staring at my cleavage. He asked me at one point, 'Could I touch them?' and I let him. He then joked, 'Can I have them gift-wrapped?' I was so disarmed that I laughed and we became fast friends. He told me that any of his plays were mine to produce.”

Angelenos with an immediate hunger for theater à la Williams can turn to “Five by Tenn,”   an evening of one acts running through May 1 at Theatre 68 in Hollywood,  “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale,” in repertory through May 28 at A Noise Within in Glendale, or Williams' final play, "A House Not Meant to Stand," through May 22 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Related

TennesseeWilliamsA&E Local theaters celebrate Tennessee Williams' 100th birthday with a trio of plays

Tennessee Williams centennary celebration this month includes a boxed-set edition of his plays

Judith Ivey-Amanda Wingfield -- a well-prepared role

 Updated April 11, 11:15 a.m.: A previous version of this post omitted "A House Not Meant to Stand" as a currently-playing production of Williams' work.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach in a scene from the 1956 film "Baby Doll." Karen Kondazian. Credits: file photo (`Baby Doll'); Iris Schneider/Los Angeles Times

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