IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL. Written by Tennesee Williams. Director: Fred Abrahamse. Cast: Melissa Haiden, Marcel Meyer, Matthew Baldwin and Loreto Cabrera. Venue: The Vineyard Hotel, Newlands.

In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel: Review

BEVERLEY BROMMERT reviews

No matter how artfully a set designer recreates a hotel ambience, there is nothing to rival the real thing when staging a play, and this is not the first time Abrahamse & Meyer Productions have presented Tennessee Williams’ work at the Vineyard to stylish effect. It is, however, the first time they have chosen the lesser intimacy of a bar as opposed to a bedroom to do so, and the result is even more successful than previously. The audience can witness the protagonists’ drama without the malaise attendant on voyeurism, and moreover the experience is more authentic: after all, how many of us are privy to the painful exchanges of dysfunctional couples in their most intimate space, the bedroom?

At the heart of this taut four-hander, Eros and Mammon join battle in the glamorous person of Miriam, who lusts after a toothsome young Japanese bartender and her increasingly labile husband’s money in equal measure; she has all the warmth of an ice cube floating in a pretty cocktail. The husband Mark (an artist whose hitherto successful career is jeopardised by new obsessions) drifts randomly in and out of insanity, with symptoms suggesting near-total physical and mental collapse. Urgent intervention is called for in the person of Leonard, Mark’s agent, and while this saviour’s arrival is awaited, Miriam diverts herself with the Bartender (a significantly archetypal, anonymous individual).

In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel: Review

Scene is set

Thus the scene is set for a sequence of interactions, chief of which are those between Miriam and the Bartender, punctuated later by bleak exchanges with Mark and Leonard. The harshness of this emotional climate is evoked by the colours: vivid scarlet and black in the first of the two acts, and the starker contrast of white and black in the second. Dialogue has a staccato, unsettling rhythm, with the occasional sentence left unfinished and in the case of Mark – when he speaks – there is no identifiable rationality to give sense to his utterance. This creates an edginess that keeps the audience on tenterhooks until the harrowing dénouement.

As the title confirms, there is a powerful Oriental element in this Noh-accented drama, enhanced by interspersing its acts with Asian-style cuisine. Meticulous as ever, Abrahamse has researched Williams’ tastes to discover that inveterate bar-habitué’s preferred cocktail, which is served as the prelude to this evening (an intriguing mélange of gin and oranges, among other ingredients). The delicacy of the fare matches the sophistication of Miriam’s lifestyle…

In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel: Review

Casting is irreproachable

Casting is irreproachable, and Haiden as Miriam dazzles in a role most would find daunting; she takes it in her stride, eye-contact with her listeners bold, body-language confident and sexy, and, in rare moments of vulnerability, genuinely appealing. Meyer’s Mark is a figure of heart-melting pathos, no match for the brittle calculation of his callous wife; Cabrera’s inscrutability, leavened by flashes of acerbic wit, never skips a beat in an impressive performance from so young an actor. Baldwin, as Leonard, has a blandness appropriate to his role and provides a necessary foil to the intensity of the other actors’ personae. Although an American accent is de rigueur in a Williams play, it is kept mercifully light in this production so that when there is an occasional lapse it is not too noticeable.

With its blend of bone-dry humour, intelligent probing of Western-versus-Oriental cultures, and corrosive depiction of a marriage in its final stages, this Williams masterpiece has aged little since 1969 and has the wherewithal to engross spectators – an artistic tour de force.

What: In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel

Where and when: The Vineyard Hotel, Newlands, until 17 August 2019 (Fridays and Saturdays only)

Tickets: hotelplays@vineyard.co.za or 021 657 4500

WS