Tennessee Williams' drama, The Red Devil Battery Sign, never produced in New York, made its Off-Broadway debut Nov. 13 at the WPA Theatre. Elizabeth Ashley leads a cast that includes James Victor, Anjelica Torn, William Devine, Annette Cardona, Stephen Mendillo, Frederick Neumann, Tim Warmen and Tim Williams.
Clive Barnes, in his New York Post review, called Red Devil "a flawed play by a great playwright at the end of his tether, toward the end of his life... The Red Devil Batterly Sign has instances in which it lurches into an odd, miasmic magnificence."
The play's themes are fear and paranoia, for it takes place in Dallas just after the Kennedy assassination. In Devil, a woman (Ashley), who claims to have special blueprints that solve the Oswald conspiracy, falls for the married former leader of a mariachi band (Victor).
Michael Wilson directs the WPA production, which comes 21 years after Williams' premiered the play in Boston (with Claire Bloom and Anthony Quinn), and 16 years after Williams' final version of the work ran in Vancouver. The text used by WPA's production was written for a 1976 Vienna staging.
According to Back Stage writer Dan Isaac, Tennessee Williams modeled the main character after Martha Mitchell, who was sequestered in a hotel during the Watergate hearings. Ashley came to director Wilson's attention when he saw her in the WPA's 1987 production of Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. She made her Broadway debut in The Highest Tree and won a Tony Award for Take Her, She's Mine.
The Red Devil Battery Sign, with lighting by Michael Lincoln, costumes by David Woolard, sets by Jeff Cowie, and sound by John Gromada, opened at the WPA Nov. 13 and runs there to Dec. 1. For tickets and information, call (212) 206-0523.
-- By David Lefkowitz