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Theater Review: 'Kowalski' at Two Roads

In the history of the American theater there has been arguably no better playwright than Tennessee Williams and no better actor than Marlon Brando.

In the history of the American theater there has been arguably no better playwright than Tennessee Williams and no better actor than Marlon Brando.

Put the two together in the same room vying for the one thing which would change their lives and an ocean of jealousy, disgust and admiration erupts.

It is the Summer of 1947 and Williams, coming off the much-acclaimed debut of his play The Glass Menagerie, wants to solidify his place as America’s greatest playwright. To do so he must find an actor to play the role of Stanley Kowalski in his upcoming play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Director Elia Kazan recommends a young actor, 23-year-old Brando, who has only appeared in a handful of plays, to go and read for Williams in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the playwright is vacationing.

What ensues, then, is Brando’s audition for the role.

In the World Premiere of Kowalski at in Studio City through Oct. 16, the celebrated Williams and the unknown Brando dig and jab at each other like punching bags in what turns out to be the birth of the production of “Streetcar,” probably Williams’ and the American theater’s most influential and oft-imitated play.

What is unexpected in this dance of wits and egos is the length to which the two giants go to torture themselves and each other to get what they want.

Williams knows that Brando is the right actor for the role of Kowalski,  but cannot bring himself to admit it.

Brando knows that he is the right actor for the part, but cannot admit to Williams.

What you have, then, in the end, is a cat and mouse game with no winner, only two troubled geniuses with the mirror as their only friend.  These are two ghosts running from the past by burying themselves in the future.

In a program note, playwright Gregg Ostrin says that, “What I have dramatized is not so much what did happen that night, but, knowing the characters involved, could have happened.”

Given that, Ostrin’s grasp of Williams’ and Brando’s lives and realities at that point in time is startlingly accurate and believable. His words are torn out of a certain reality, at least.

Producer and director Rick Shaw’s work is emotional, gripping and original. There is not a moment where we, the audience, do not believe a word spoken or a moment acted.

Curt Bonnem (Williams) personifies the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright in spirit, mind and body leaving little to the imagination. His is a brilliant performance.

Ignacio Serricchio (Brando) is nothing less than inspired as the two-time Academy Award-winning actor. In movement, speech and presence he is Brando, and gives a towering performance which this critic counts as one of the best he has seen this year in a contemporary play.

Sasha Higgins (Jo) is strong and fierce as the only person with the courage to tell both Williams and Brando what she honestly believes.

Kimberly Stanphill (Margo Jones) is convincing as Williams’ close friend.

Anthony Rey Perez (Pancho Rodriquez) is nothing less than a gift and find as the playwright’s partner.

Yana Shif, stage manager and light and sound operator, aids greatly in the ripeness and quality of the show.

All in all, Kowalski does its job. Fact or fiction, it points a magnifying glass on an era in American theater, art and history that influenced generations, but will probably never come again.

 

4348 Tujunga Avenue,

Studio City, CA 91604

Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM

Sundays at 7:30PM

Fridays and Sundays:$25

Saturdays:$30

Information: (818) 762-2272

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