PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT a minor Tennessee Williams play

Patrick Alparone (George) fights with wife MacKenzie Meehan (Isabel) as Johnny Moreno (Ralph) looks on.

PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT: Comedy. By Tennessee Williams. Directed by Bill English. SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 677-9596 or January 14, 2012.

In the 100th year since Tennessee William’s was born the Bay Area and beyond have done homage to his works. Marin Theatre Company did a fantastic job with a re-imagining of The Glass Menagerie and SF Playhouse has mounted an almost brilliant staging of his only comedy Period of Adjustment. The story line is the stuff that TV soap operas are made of but under Bill English’s sharp direction on Nina Ball’s superb two-level set the excellent cast invest their roles with verisimilitude. Although written in 1960, the affliction of a major character, post traumatic stress syndrome, remains eerily relevant in 2012.

The afflicted character is George Haverstick (perfectly played by Patrick Alparone), a Korean War veteran recovering from an undefined “nervous condition”, has impetuously married Isabel (MacKenzie Meehan), whom he met while in the hospital. To her chagrin, they drive to Nashville on their honeymoon in an old Cadillac hearse. During that time, incompatibility rears its ugly head and they end up visiting George’s war buddy Ralph Bates (deftly underplayed by Johnny Moreno).

As luck, actually bad luck would have it, Ralph’s wife Dorothea (Maggie Mason) has walked out on him, taking their son with her. Alas, it is Christmas time thus making the split even more traumatic. Ralph’s over simplistic answer to the Haverstick’s problems is that everyone needs a period of adjustment.

In classic Williams’ fashion, he has given his woman protagonist a long first act monolog defining character while carrying forward the story line. During the excellent delivery of that monolog by Meehan, Moreno’s minimal oral and non-verbal responses make him the perfect sounding board without intrusion.

There is a well balanced mixture of humor and tension that lifts the atmosphere beyond the sit-com level. The fact that Bate’s home is built over an abandoned mine and is slowly sinking into the chasm stretches one’s imagination but does add a touch of metaphor to the story line.

We also learn, much later in the second act that Ralph has married the boss’ “homely” daughter as a ploy for professional advancement. There is great animosity between Ralph and his in-laws that creates a sharp but farcical confrontation. The fact that it is Christmas eve adds a touch of poignancy to the action.

It is understandable that this play was not well received but the SF Playhouse staging makes it a must see show for its fine acting and as a historical look at a different Tennessee Williams. Running time about 2 hours with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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