When Tennessee Williams returned to the States after a yearlong trip to Sicily with boyfriend Frank Merlo, the playwright was the happiest he’d ever been. And out of that trip came The Rose Tattoo, a play infused with a sexy energy that can only come from experiencing a passionate love affair—much like the one Williams' Serafina, a widowed Sicilian-American, finds with Alvaro Mangiacavallo.
Now in previews at American Airlines Theatre with an opening set for October 15, The Rose Tattoo returns to Broadway starring Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, Top Girls) as Serafina and Emun Elliott (Game of Thrones, A View From the Bridge at the Young Vic) as Alvaro, with direction by Trip Cullman (Choir Boy, Lobby Hero).
“For anyone who’s felt a little beat up by life, there is a real sense of hope and joy in the play,” says Tomei. “It just pours through the writing because [Williams] was so in love when he was writing this.”
While Tomei was busy exploring her character’s new relationship, the star realized this was probably as close to a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers experience she’d ever get, comparing the partnership to the dancing duo. While there’s no actual choreography between the two, “there’s so much deep emotion and feeling, but there’s also so much wonderful screwball bits that are in it,” the performer explains.
Elliott hopes his character is a breath of fresh air for the audience, just like he is for Serafina. “Alvaro doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He represents love and what it is to be alive. This is a guy who’s willing to do anything and everything to unlock this woman and rekindle the fire within her.”
The Game of Thrones alum is discovering new tools and techniques to portray a character who doesn't have the darker elements he’s used to playing. “It was scary at first to not rely on those tricks from the past few years,” says Elliott. “Alvaro’s just as three-dimensional as anyone I’ve played, so it’s just about finding color on a different spectrum.”
The Rose Tattoo is oddly prescient for something written nearly 70 years ago. For example, the show deals with themes of immigration and smashing the patriarchy. “It's an immigrant story and also a story of passion, love, and rebirth within a repressive system,” says Tomei, referring to Sicilian culture, historically conservative in its views on sexuality and women’s place in society.
Cullman describes the experience of directing The Rose Tattoo as leading a climbing expedition up Mount Everest with a cast of 21 and the incorporation of Sicilian folk songs and dancing. In spite of, and perhaps because of that, the challenge is an experience he’s relishing, calling the play “extraordinary in its lushness and depiction of the natural world.”
In a world today when romance seems like a fairy tale, perhaps The Rose Tattoo will send the audience into Times Square feeling a flush of what it means to be in love and happy.