Tennessee Williams, the late and legendary playwright of “Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie,” approves of actor James Franco. I know that because Williams was summoned twice on Sunday afternoon in seances held by Franco and filmmaker/artist Laurel Nakadate. In each of two shows–the second show had to be put on spontaneously because such a big crowd came for the first–the seance preceded clever monologue readings from “The Glass Menagerie” by aspiring actors and actresses found through a vaguely worded ad on Craigslist.
The very fun and spot on “Three Performances in Search of Tennessee” took place at the Abrons Art Center way downtown on the Lower East Side in the Henry Street Settlement as part of Performa-Arts. Franco was on a 24 hour pass from work in Detroit on “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” which has been shooting since July and won’t end until right before Christmas. He and the cheerful but intense Nakadate came up with this way to present Tennessee Williams uniquely. And so they did. A cynic such as this reporter certainly though the “seance” was staged, but the mediums on stage acted in earnest. When I mentioned to one between shows that I had better questions for Williams if he also returned for the second, the man looked aghast.
For about twenty minutes, Franco and Nakadate sat on stage in a pool of spotlight, flanking the two mediums. Their “cast” members formed a semi circle behind them in darkness. And Williams was “reached” by spiritual contact. The most we learned? He really likes James Franco, and missed a certain amount of love from his mother. He didn’t say who his favorite Blanche has been from “Streetcar,” whether he liked the Monkey Bar, or what was up with him and Truman Capote in the after life.
The second and third parts consisted of Franco pre-filmed, projected on a video screen, trading lines with actresses who took the stage one by one. They read their dialogue from lines printed on the video screen. All the ladies were found on Craigslist, and were successful to varying degrees. One was the official Lady Gaga impersonator, Lauren Francesca, who wore a leather bikini. Another swooped on stage like a female Zorro, with a cape. A third tried to upstage the event; instead of reading the dialogue she took out her cell phone and called her mother. It didn’t work.
For the men, which included performance artist Kalup Linzy as a drag queen, there were ups and downs. A highlight was Ryan McNamara, who spontaneously called Franco and Nakadate on stage to help him read his “Menagerie” soliloquy.
I can think of worse things to have done on a Sunday afternoon.