by Victoria Montecillo
Last week, I got to see the Fountain’s current production: a new Tennessee Williams piece called Baby Doll. The circumstances of how this piece came to the stage were a bit unorthodox for a Williams play. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of an older Williams one-act play called 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Williams adapted it for film in 1956, and it wasn’t until recently that Emily Mann and Pierre Laville re-adapted the film for the stage. I was very curious to see this piece that had started out as a one-act before going to film and then back to the stage. There must have been something truly powerful about the story itself to go back and forth between those mediums.
I certainly wasn’t wrong about that. Baby Doll is a powerful, immersive story. The events that unfold keep you on edge throughout the show. On top of that, watching this piece in the Fountain’s intimate house made it even more impactful. I felt like I was directly in the story with these characters, with a direct stake in what happened to them. After the show, I watched the 1956 film version of Baby Doll, and it felt like the biggest thing missing was the immediacy and urgency that the staged version, particularly in the Fountain, provided the audience. Other than that main difference, however, the play stayed very true to Williams’ original screenplay – the original dialogue was mostly preserved, and the details of the story were almost identical. In comparing the two, it was clear that this particular story was even more powerful when it was right in your face, up close and personal.
The Fountain’s production takes a physically and emotionally abusive and manipulative marriage between Baby Doll, a young and impressionable woman, and Archie Lee Meighan, an angry and lonely older man, and pushes it into the audience’s faces, forcing them to confront the uncomfortable dynamics of domestic violence and abuse. The audience is confronted with the uncomfortably predatory nature of their marriage, before we are met with Silva Vacarro, a handsome younger man who seems to be Archie Lee’s opposite in every way. He’s charming, mysterious, and Baby Doll clearly finds him intriguing. He is clearly Baby Doll’s true romantic interest, as well as the foil to Archie Lee’s unpredictable anger and abuse.
Just when I thought the story was leading in a predictable direction, though, it became clear that Silva had ulterior motives for flirting with Baby Doll. We spend the majority of the rest of the show watching him alternate between seducing her and emotionally manipulating her for information. I felt a strange discomfort watching them, because I wasn’t sure whether or not I was rooting for them to be together. They clearly had chemistry, so much so that watching their characters together in such a small theatre felt like I was invading their privacy somehow. At the same time, there were moments where he was clearly prodding her for information by pushing her boundaries, or by making her feel special and tended to in a way that he knew she wasn’t getting with Archie Lee. By this time, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, watching with bated breath to see what would happen next. There were moments where I was sure Silva would get rid of Archie Lee somehow and he and Baby Doll would run off together into the sunset. But then there were other moments where I really couldn’t tell if he truly cared for Baby Doll at all, or if he was just a master manipulator.
This kind of theatre is of a special type: the kind that makes you think and confront difficult, uncomfortable issues, and provokes thought and visceral emotions from its audiences. Theatre is such a special way to present and portray relationships between people, in a way that makes you feel and think about the nature of human connection. The power of the story, as well as the amazing talent and chemistry between the actors in this company, reminded me that theatre can do so much; it is meant to confront and provoke, and to tell stories that audiences can connect to in some way.
I felt very lucky to get to see not just one but three Fountain productions in my time here. My Mañana Comes, Forever Flamenco at the Ford, and Baby Doll were certainly all incredibly different from one another, but they all had an impact on me: they brought forth an important message or story, or provided an outlet for a vibrant but underexposed community to celebrate beautiful art. All of them presented a piece of art, with performers and creators that had a clear passion and message.
These shows have made me proud to be a part of the Fountain family, and to get to work at such an organization. This blog post is bittersweet for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is that today is my last day working at the Fountain. I’m moving up to San Francisco the day after tomorrow, and I’m going to miss the Fountain family so so much. I am so thankful to everyone here at the Fountain, and at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, that made these past ten weeks possible! I know that I have people rooting for me here, and I’m so grateful for that.
This is me signing off – thank you to all that followed my internship saga and read my musings on theatre and arts. And thank you to everyone in the Fountain family for this journey. I wouldn’t feel at all prepared to jump into my next adventure if it had not been for all of you, and all I learned from you!
Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for the support of their LA County Arts Intern program.