On October 22, the adventurous WPA Theatre in New York will revive The Red Devil Battery Sign, a 1975 drama by Tennessee Williams. David Merrick, the original producer, closed the play in Boston after what had been planned as a two-week pre-Broadway run.
Tony-winner Elizabeth Ashley and Paul Calderon will star in the WPA production, which is to be directed by Michael Wilson. Ashley's involvement was instrumental in the WPA's decision to produce Red Devil. Presentations originally announced for this season, including plays by Paul Rudnick, Charles Busch and John C. Russell, are still in development.
Having been Tony-nominated for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Ashley has also appeared in revivals of Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore and, most recently, Circle in the Square's Garden District. Her career has taken her from starring with Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park on Broadway, to the television series "Evening Shade."
Her co-star Paul Calderon, a veteran of the New York stage, was highly-praised for his portrayal of Mantequilla in Blade to the Heat two seasons ago at the Joesph Papp Public Theater.
Red Devil follows the sordid romance between a terminally-ill, brutally-masculine Mexican bandleader (King Del Rey) and the estranged, alcoholic wife of a millionaire (identified only as Woman Downtown). Set predominantly in a Dallas hotel room, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, the play reexamines the archetypes Williams created in Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois of A Streetcar Named Desire.
The Boston cast was headed by Claire Bloom and Anthony Quinn. Interviewed in Time magazine, after the close of the play, Quinn declared, "I'd rather be in a flop by Tennessee Williams, whom I consider to be the world's greatest living playwright, than in a hit by a . . . (non-specific expletive deleted)." (Broadway Bound, William Torbert Leonard, Scarecrow Press, 1983).
Indeed the power of Williams' reputation resulted in subsequent productions in Vienna and London. The playwright had taken 17 years to revise the ultimately-successful Orpheus Descending. Similar efforts to resuscitate this play, however, have not previously met with critical approval.
The WPA's production of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band (currently running in a commercial transfer at The Lucille Lortel Theatre) facilitated a critical reassessment of that controversial play. Perhaps the Company is looking for a similar response to this New York premiere of a work historically, and perhaps artistically, important to Tennessee Williams' oeuvre.
The WPA Theatre is located at 519 West 23rd Street. Tickets and information are available by calling (212) 206-0523.-- By Kevin W. Reardon