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Theater review: 'Five Beauties' at the McCadden Place Theatre

September 22, 2011 | 10:20 am

   Tom Groenwald, left, and Byron Field in "The Traveling Companion"
Tennessee Williams' enduring masterworks understandably overshadow his knack for the short form, worthy miniatures appearing across the canon. The New American Theatre gratifyingly observes the Williams centenary with "Five Beauties," an airtight quintet of rarely performed one-acts.

First up: the recently discovered "Green Eyes," a Vietnam War-era study of a tormented soldier and his hormonal bride. Courtney Munch and Brendan Brandt are physically unfettered, palpably attuned combatants, directed by Mark Bringelson with coiled intensity. "The Lady of Larkspur Lotion" shifts to comic Southern Gothic, and Bjorn Johnson's staging lovingly highlights the fantasist title character (delicious Cameron Meyer), her grimly unconvinced landlady (wry Mona Lee Wylde), and a sodden fellow dreamer (rhapsodic John Copeland).

Before intermission comes "The Traveling Companion," which packs a wallop. As a neurotic gay writer navigates his aggressively macho escort's defenses, the exchanges feel as much like embedded memories as taut dramaturgy. Tom Groenwald makes a superb authorial proxy, Byron Field is an ideally posturing prey, and director Ron Klier maneuvers them to memorable effect.

"Moony's Kid Don't Cry," Williams' first published work, heightens the tension. Helmed by Elina de Santos with precision, this standoff between a factory worker (bravura Scott Sheldon) and his exhausted wife (nuanced Jade Sealey) is Williams in Arthur Miller mode.  And the baroque finale, "Auto-Da-Fé" -- anxiously repressed son, sweetly domineering mother, incendiary French Quarter -- benefits from actors Anthony Cran and Bibi Tinsley and director Jack Stehlin, who devour the surreal, pre-"Glass Menagerie" idiom.

There's a faintly showcase aspect to the budget-constrained designs, but they're handled with resourceful élan. Such assurance typifies this compelling compendium.

-- David C. Nichols

"Five Beauties," McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Oct. 8. $20. (310) 701-0788 or www.NewAmericanTheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Photo: Tom Groenwald, left, and Byron Field in "The Traveling Companion." Credit: Daniel G. Lam.

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