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'Desire' review: Six playwrights take on Tennessee Williams

Mickey Theis and Juliet Brett in "Desire," produced

Mickey Theis and Juliet Brett in "Desire," produced by The Acting Company for the 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg

Commissioned anthologies in the theater tend to be uneven grab-bags of inspiration and folly. But "Desire," The Acting Company's evening of six plays by six playwrights, based on short stories by Tennessee Williams, is consistently engrossing and often ingenious. Expertly directed by Michael Wilson, the playwrights -- including John Guare and Beth Henley -- manage to evoke vivid themes and shadows of Williams without a hint of overheated parody or the loss of each individual voice.

The most recognizable and reverberant is "You Lied to Me about Centralia," Guare's leap off the story that inspired "The Glass Menagerie." We are in a train station overhearing the Gentleman Caller and his fiancee after his tumultuous evening at the Wingfields'. His betrothed seems shallow and grasping in comparison, as he looks at the trap that is his conventional future.

Henley evokes the fragile childhood of the playwright and his doomed sister Rose. Elizabeth Egloff updates to the present with real and metaphysical worms eating away at a novelist. Marcus Gardley takes on the deep pain between a black masseur and a white gay man in 1952 New Orleans. David Grimm evokes a self-immolating meeting between a Blanche-like woman and a rough man in 1939 in St. Louis. Rebecca Gilman updates an Alabama campus where a sorority girl almost breaks expectations.

Worlds are created by Jeff Cowie's projections on his modest wood set. The entirety might be more aptly titled "Yearn" than "Desire," but, either way, it made me yearn to read the stories.


WHERE 59 E. 59th St. 

INFO $70; 212-279-4200;

BOTTOM LINE Six playwrights do right by Tennessee Williams' short stories.

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