by Nita Congress · August 15, 2014
“I hear her nerves breaking.” “There’s something dead back there that isn’t buried.” “The long procession to the graveyard…”
Is there anybody who can summon up hysteria and desperation as elegantly and economically as Tennessee Williams?
This year’s FringeNYC features a rarely produced short one-act by the master, Interior: Panic. Clocking in at just shy of forty minutes, the piece, which was only first performed and published in this decade, is essentially an early draft of Streetcar Named Desire. Williams aficionados will find the similarities—and perhaps even more the differences—between the two plays fascinating. And the fact that Interior: Panic is thoughtfully and creatively brought to life by HedgePig Ensemble Theatre makes attendance all but mandatory.
Blanche Shannon has been staying in New Orleans with her younger sister Grace and Grace’s husband Jack for several weeks. She is descending into madness brought on by guilt and shame over a scandal that ignominiously ended her teaching career. In her paranoia, she hears whispered hissings reproaching her, condemning her, mocking her. Mostly the voices mock her about George, a man she has met since coming to New Orleans.
It is in portraying these voices in Blanche’s head that HedgePig does its best work. Their sound design—augmented by violinist Audrey Defreytas Hayes—is smart, startling, and sometimes scary. Director Emily Lyon makes some interesting choices in portraying Blanche’s delusions against the reality of Grace’s small apartment by showing us flashbacks of Blanche’s previous life. Because a fascinating feature of Interior: Panic is that much of it takes place inside Blanche’s head, setting it quite apart from the more realistic drama of Streetcar (for more on this point, see this essay from The Tennessee Williams Annual Review).
The acting—led by Gwendolyn Kelso as Blanche, Mary Candler as Grace, and Ed Hoopman as Jack—is uniformly earnest and sincere. The company has done well by this highly intriguing work.