Tennessee Williams in a Hotel

 Only some radical change can divert the downward course of my spirit, some startling new place or people to arrest the drift, the drag.

Tennessee Williams travelled a lot, living in hotels and writing plays, many – unsurprisingly – set in hotels. I can fully relate to his thoughts, above. Travelling makes me happy, too, and far more creative. His having lived in hotels so much, though, is one of many reasons that the Hotel Plays, which use a suite in a hotel, work so well.

Two by Tenn is hosted by the grand ol’ dame of Claremont, the elegant Vineyard Hotel, and included a gourmet 3-course, wine-paired menu: Field mushrooms in a bouche case followed by lamb shank, finished off with sticky pecan tart and brandy ice cream – a perfectly delicious feast for the rainy winter’s night that it was. We sat at a long table and met lovely people.

Welcomed by the oh-so-fabulous Mme Le Monde in her gorgeous lace dress and over the top make-up, we enjoyed starters before heading upstairs for the first short play, wonderfully entitled A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot.

One of the suites in the old section of the hotel has been magically transformed into an intimate theatre that seats just forty people. It makes for an entirely different theatre experience, with the audience so close to the actors that one feels involved in the scene.

Life-size puppets of Dame Elizabeth Taylor (Marcel Meyer) and Joan Crawford (Dean Balie) are sat at a bar table discussing their plight as ageing good-time girls … and hoping to be picked up. Puppeteers, Meyer and Bailie – both superb – sit behind the puppets, their suspender-and- stockinged legs, are the puppet’s legs. They control the puppets’ heads with one hand and are the puppets’ arm with the other … hard to describe, but brilliant in execution.The script is irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny.

Back down for mains and a chat with fellow-diners and then its upstairs again for a slightly more provocative and in-your-face production of The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme Le Monde. Young and pretty Mint, very well played by Matthew Baldwin, is visited by Hall (Dean Balie), an old school friend from Scrotum-on-Swansea. Unable to use his legs, Mint lives in a garret above Mme Le Monde’s rather shady rooming house where he uses a series of hooks to swing across the room.

Not only that, he also seems to be regularly abused by one of Mme Le Monde’s numerous ‘male spawn’ and often goes without food. Set amongst this background, the story is darkly funny and illustrates Tennessee William’s tendency toward inappropriate laughter and eliciting it from his audiences.

Back down in the gracious, chandeliered dining room, the pecan pie is enjoyed over much mirthful discussion that lasts well through the after-dinner coffee. This is perfect winter entertainment and ‘dinner theatre’ in its prime.

A version of this review was published at What’s On In Cape Town.

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