The soldier and his new bride wake up in tough shape in a New Orleans hotel room. He’s on a short leave from a brutal jungle war that haunts him. He drank too much on Bourbon Street last night and things got fuzzy. Now she’s covered in bruises and scratches. What happened? The honeymoon turns into a lurid psychosexual power struggle.
And the audience sits by the foot of the bed, watching.
That’s “Green Eyes,’’ a Boston premiere presented by Company One for no more than 25 people per show in a guest room at the Ames Hotel through Feb. 12.
“We’re with this couple for the most intense moments of their lives, as they’re sort of negotiating whose truth is the real truth,’’ says director Travis Chamberlain. “And those realities are only able to merge, ultimately, through sex. Which is, when you think about it, true for most couples. It’s just an extreme of that.’’
When people leave the show, they don’t necessarily know what happened to - or between - Mr. and Mrs. Claude Dunphy. “Many people feel like they’ve made a decision, but the decisions are all across the map,’’ says Erin Markey, who plays the wife.
The play was written by Tennessee Williams in 1970 and unpublished for almost 40 years. His frequently maligned late plays, which in recent years have captured the attention of scholars, are often wildly over the top, as in “The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame Le Monde,’’ produced here by Beau Jest Moving Theatre in 2009. But when offered the chance to stage one of them for a festival, New York director Chamberlain chose “Green Eyes,’’ in part because it echoed the tone of Williams classics like “A Streetcar Named Desire’’ while more openly pushing sexual boundaries.
“I think of it as sort of Tennessee Williams unbarred a little bit,’’ says Chamberlain. “It’s what we think of as classic Williams, just that everything that would happen offstage in the ‘masterpieces’ happens onstage, in real time. And we’ve confined it to a real space, so it’s real, real, real, supposedly.’’
Chamberlain knew who he wanted to play the wife: cabaret and performance artist Markey, with whom he’d worked before. The initial workshop was followed by a production in a room in Manhattan’s Hudson Hotel last winter that got strongly felt, if mixed, reviews lauding Markey’s no-holds-barred performance. Now Chamberlain and Company One are bringing Markey and the show to the Ames, which is owned by the same hotel group. New York actor Alan Brincks plays the soldier-husband here. A slightly larger room means they can wedge in 25 audience members, instead of 14 as they did in New York. And the show is listed as 18-plus.
Chamberlain and Markey sit for an interview in an otherwise empty, upscale bar on the second floor of the Ames, a boutique hotel that’s so trendy there’s no sign out front. Later, they lead a brief tour of the set, still being dressed in a room one flight up. The modern furniture has been cleared out, a window covered. The unhappy couple’s surprisingly small bed sits under a painting on velvet of a pouncing tiger - Chamberlain’s handiwork.
Markey, who spends the entire play in different states of undress, says “Green Eyes’’ is by turns several different kinds of sexy - and at times not sexy at all. “Hopefully the show for us transcends the bottom line of people getting to go in and be voyeurs of half-naked people rolling around on each other and saying obscene things,’’ she says. “But we’ll see.’’
The actress is a boundary-pusher by nature. Raised Catholic, she became a fundamentalist Christian as a teenager, then reexamined her beliefs when several theater-group friends came out to her at the end of high school. College was followed by a brief stint as a stripper, before she plunged into the New York performance scene.
“I was a gender studies major in college, and at the end of the day that’s a study of, like, power dynamics, and this play is nothing if not a study of power dynamics as well,’’ she says.
The same might be said of the production, with the audience just inches away.
“The play is not separate from that group of people’s presence,’’ Markey says. “Some people are game in a way where they just want to, like, sit back and watch, be separate from it and think about it. And some people want to be in it and are sitting forward. And some people read it as a real camp experience and are just, like, hanging on every luscious Williams lyric. And some people are really resistant to it because it’s so intimate and in-your-face. We’re, like, millimeters away from being on top of people’s feet.’’
Memories of abuse
The sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese began with explosive stories in the Globe a decade ago. One of those abused by a priest tells his story in “Conversations With My Molester: A Journey of Faith,’’ at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre at Boston University. Cambridge poet Michael Mack is known for “Hearing Voices: Speaking in Tongues,’’ about his mother’s struggle with schizophrenia. His new solo work limns the aftereffects of what happened to him as a boy and his struggle to find answers. Remaining shows are today and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets, $27, at www.ovationtix.com.
Bread and Puppet returns
Bread and Puppet Theater brings its politically charged imagery and playful puppetry back to the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts Monday through Jan. 29. Evening performances of “Attica’’ and “Man of Flesh and Cardboard’’ are recommended for ages 12 and up, and the family-friendly “Man = Carrot Circus’’ will be offered in matinees. Among other things, members of Peter Schumann’s Vermont-based troupe have spent time in recent months offering workshops at “Occupy’’ protest sites in Boston and elsewhere to help protesters get their message out via street theater. Tickets, $12, at 866-811-4111 and www.breadandpuppet.org, or at the door one hour before performances (cash or check only).
A one-man ‘Maestro’
ArtsEmerson has added a musical note to its second season: the Boston premiere of Hershey Felder in “Maestro: Leonard Bernstein,’’ from the creators of “George Gershwin Alone’’ and “Beethoven, As I Knew Him.’’ Performances are April 28-May 13 at the Paramount Center. Tickets, $25-$89, go on sale today at 10 a.m. at 617-824-8400 and www.artsemerson.org.
Joel Brown can be reached at email@example.com