There is one thing you can count on when experiencing a NoExit Performance production—the obvious unpredictability of venues in which this site-specific theatre company chooses to present their shows. Their production of Tennessee Williams’ tragic comedy, “The Mutilated,” which I saw Friday at the Carriage House, adjacent to NoExit partner the Indianapolis Propylaeum, certainly was no exception.
Similar in architecture to homes commonly found in historic neighborhoods such as Georgetown in Washington DC and other east-coast cities, the two-story structure, which once housed horses, then automobiles, and at one time even held the initial collection of The Children’s Museum, made for a cozy setting that was ideal for this Williams drama.
Masterfully directed by NoExit artistic director Ryan Mullins and produced by executive director Lukas Schooler, “The Mutilated,” though overlooked, is quintessential Williams. Published and produced originally in 1966, the one-act play is not as well-known as some of his other works, but it certainly has his stamp on it, especially when it comes to its eloquent, Southern language and themes—dishonesty, betrayal, and deliberate cruelty. The play takes place in the French Quarter in New Orleans—a world of con artists, drunks, whores, and homeless people, on Christmas Eve, which adds to its melancholy mood. There is nothing more depressing than being alone in a bleak, cockroach-infested hotel on Christmas Eve.
The two main characters are Celeste and Trinket. Celeste is a whore. She is also a shoplifter. Mentally unstable, she is also an alcoholic, generally regarded as pathetic and treated as a pariah. Trinket lives in the Silver Dollar Hotel, a fleabag establishment filled with drunks and thieves. But Trinket is actually wealthy because her father has three oil wells that he left to her, so she walks around with a roll of cash in her purse. She lives at the hotel because she has stayed there for years and is deeply attached to her room. Trinket is a tormented and delusional character. Suffering from cancer (although the “C word” is never heard throughout the play,) one of her breasts has been removed and she is ultra-sensitive about it and keeps talking about her “mutilation.” She is a character who sits in her room, on the edge of panic, and is always in a lot of pain. She has kept her “mutilation” a secret. But she and Celeste have become friends, even though it is a co-dependent kinship based on loneliness. Trinket would invite Celeste into her room and give her wine and food, which is the main reason Celeste was interested in being friends with her in the first place. Eventually, Trinket confessed her surgery to Celeste (This all happened before the play starts.) And now that the two of them have had a falling out, Trinket has locked Celeste out, causing and her to get even by writing graffiti about Trinket’s condition on the walls of the hotel.
For the remainder of the play, Trinket is trying to keep Celeste out of her room, while Celeste is making a nuisance of herself in the hotel lobby as Christmas carolers wander the streets. Trinket goes out to her favorite bar, where she sits by herself and orders her favorite cocktails. Two sailors walk in and Trinket is attracted to one of them, after which she ends up taking him home with her. Once alone in the room, it’s clear that Trinket, who keeps stalling because she doesn’t want the sailor to know about her “mutilation,” is looking for love and not just sex. So as not to spoil things, I’ll leave the rest of the plot to your imagination, but if you are a Williams’ fan you know things are never tied up with a nice big bow. Suffice to say, you will stay engaged in the action until the play’s conclusion.
Although the acting was uneven among those in supporting roles, the production’s two formidable leading ladies, Gigi Jennewein as Trinket Dugan and Beverly Roche as Celeste Delecroix Griffin, both turned in strong, memorable performances.
Jennewein, who impressed me in Summit Performance’s “Silent Sky” last summer at Phoenix Theatre, once again drew me in as the vulnerable, wounded Trinket, cut from the same cloth as Williams’ other tragic heroine, Blanche DuBois.
Roche, one of Indy’s most versatile character actors, also stood out as the bold, colorful vagabond Celeste, who uses her ample bosom to scam the other misfits in her seedy world.
Performing on a set designed by found-object-artist-extraordinaire Kipp Normand, adorned with antique furniture and props representing Trinket’s room, the hotel’s front desk, a bar, etc., the cast also utilized a permanent balcony above the Carriage House’s stable quarters, where the play was held. Adding to the play’s moody ambiance straight out of a Hopper painting was Ben Asaykwee’s original music score, Mullins’ lighting design and Kat Robinson and Traci Snider’s vintage costumes.
Essentially a Christmas story, albeit a thoroughly unconventional one, that respects and even loves its characters despite their flaws and oddities, “The Mutilated” reinforced, for me, the importance of tolerance toward so-called misfits and, most importantly, friendship, kindness and forgiveness.
Tickets for “The Mutilated” are available via Brown Paper Tickets at themutilated.bpt.me. Shows on Thursday, Nov. 15, Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17 will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday’s show starts at 7 p.m. The Thursday, Nov. 15 performance is Industry Night, in which tickets are discounted for theatre artists. For more information go to noexitperformance.org.