ORLANDO – The creaky old house that her husband brought her to live at, located in Tiger Tail County, Mississippi, is, young and sensuous Baby Doll insists, haunted.
At times it certainly seems that way. Baby Doll’s Aunt Rose Comfort has a tendency to scream out loud – usually when the phone rings, as it turns out – and there are strange noises in that old house, although most often it’s a chicken that pecks at the kitchen door.
Then there’s that dark attic room that Baby Doll locks herself in, which is awfully creepy – although not nearly as threatening to her as the stranger knocking on that attic door. She insists he go downstairs before she’s willing to unbolt the lock.
One reason Baby Doll feels so strongly about that man in her home, Silva Vacarro, is that he’s the exact opposite of her husband, who is old, fat, crude, foul-mouthed and abusive to her. Silva is young, handsome, smart and articulate. He also happens to be a business rival of Baby Doll’s hubby, who has been unable to consummate their marriage until she turns 20 — in a couple of days, in fact.
In the meantime, poor Archie Lee Meighan has fallen on hard times – ever since Silva set up a competing cotton gin and siphoned off all of Meighan’s customers. But a mysterious fire has destroyed Silva’s business, and Baby Doll is well aware that he suspects her husband of being the culprit – and has come to their home seeking revenge.
But with his studly looks, the main question in Baby Doll’s mind — and ours — is: exactly what kind of revenge?
As he removes his shirt, she starts getting some strong hints.
In the hot and sweaty month known as June in Orlando, the weather isn’t the only thing that’s steamy. In Theatre Downtown’s captivating version of Tennessee Williams’ sexy drama “Tiger Tail,” Baby Doll cavorts around the stage in the flimsiest of paper-thin nightgowns, while tall and masculine Silva pumps water from the well onto a rag, then lifts his shirt and applies the cloth to cool his bare chest …. as Baby Doll stands close by, watching. Silva brings quite a bit of old-school charm to the table, and both of them exude enough sex appeal to put TV’s “The Bachelor” to shame.
And while it’s immediately clear that Silva has shown up at the Meighan home ready to cast blame for his destroyed cotton gin, let’s just say revenge has never seemed quite so alluring. “Tiger Tail” opens with a fiery explosion, heard in the theater but seen off-stage, as Baby Doll and Aunt Rose watch Silva’s torched cotton gin goes up in flames. From then on, the play stays as explosive and fiery as in those first few minutes.
Williams’ southern-fried drama is perhaps best known to audiences for the 1956 movie version, “Baby Doll”, which won star Carrol Baker an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and which Time magazine called “just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited.”
Well, it’s not the 1950s anymore, and what was shocking then is now just great drama – taut, provocative, a first-rate cat-and-mouse chase. The tale of a child-bridge who refuses to consummate her marriage to an old cotton-gin owner is at times hilarious, often tense, and certainly full of surprises. The movie was based on a one-act play Williams wrote called “27 Wagons Full of Cotton,” and Williams was sufficiently intrigued by the movie that he decided to expand the original 1945 play into a full-length one in 1977. It was produced at the Hippodrome Theatre Workshop in Gainesville in 1979.
If Williams certainly knew how to craft a spicey drama, Theatre Downtown likewise understands how to effectively stage his work. The set alone is worth marveling at — the dilapidated old southern home, including the kitchen, the attic, and of course Baby Doll’s bedroom, which serves as the showcase for one of the play’s most erotic moments.
The casting also helps enormously. Sarah Benz Phillips has some of the show’s best laughs as batty Auto Rose, and Tim Bass is effectively nasty and unlikable as the obnoxious and bigoted Archie – never more so than in the play’s final scene, when Archie – drunk on cheap moonshine — has a rather ugly downfall. It never hurts to root against a true villain.
Brenna Arden Warden is a real delight as the voluptuous Baby Doll, whose stunning looks mask a cunning survival instinct. But she’s no match for Silva, played by Frank Casado in a truly wonderful performance. At times the intense look on Casado’s face creates the impression of an angry man about to explode – but the sly fox always catches his anger and slips back into his considerable wit and charm. In a sense, he’s even more fascinating to watch as a result of that, because you know this fox is up to no good – and you simply can’t wait to see what he’s cooking up next.
“Tiger Tail” will be performed one final weekend, so don’t miss it. During a month already known for blistering heat, this play sizzles.
The show is performed on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., at the theater at 2113 N. Orange Ave. Call 407-841-0083 for tickets.
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