PLAYBILL PICKS: Tennessee Williams' Five Most Memorable Divas

By Robert Simonson
18 Apr 2012

Jayne Houdyshell
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Serafina Delle Rose, The Rose Tattoo.

Unlike Blanche, Amanda or Maggie, the heroine of The Rose Tattoo, a widowed Italian-American, is not so much at war with life, as in retreat. She is content with the memory of the love she shared with her late husband, and unattracted to the petty emotions of the surrounding world. She's intent on not inviting another man into her life, until an amorous truck driver appears and warms her heart once again to love and life.

Considerably fewer actresses have had a whack at Serafina, as the play the less often revived than Streetcar, Menagerie and Cat. This may have something to do with the legendary performances etched by Maureen Stapleton and Anna Magnani, who created the part in the Broadway premiere and the movie, respectively. Jayne Houdyshell played the role at Meadow Brook Theater in Michigan in the late '80s. "It's a tough play," she said. "It was huge and wonderful. It's comparable to playing Lear, intense in physical and emotional demands. She has little time off stage. It was very demanding."

Original Broadway Playbill cover in 1951.

Houdyshell thinks that Serefina, like Maggie, benefits from having an experienced actress embody her. "She's not an older women, but older women have played her in the past," she said. (The most recent Broadway Serafina was Mercedes Ruehl, who was 47 at the time.) "And I think there's a good reason for that. It requires an emotional depth that's more accessible for women who have lived a bit longer."

Though, as a play, Rose often takes a back seat to Cat, Menagerie and Streetcar in the estimation of critics, Houdyshell doesn't think Serafina should do the same. "The depth of passion and feeling and love and loss and triumph that that woman goes through is enormous," she asserted. "Her arc and journey are comparable to Blanche and Amanda. In some ways, it's more operatic. She is Italian, after all."

"One thing she has in common with a lot of leading ladies in Williams," Houdyshell continued, "is she lives in a society where the extremities of her passions are not necessarily socially acceptable. So her passions are thwarted because of that. She doesn't do well with the repressive society that is the majority. She's an outsider. I think a lot of Williams' women are outsiders in some respect."

Read about the original 1951 Broadway production of The Rose Tattoo in the Playbill Vault, the most comprehensive Broadway database on the internet.