“Baby Doll” Teases Out Tense Truths, at Shelton Theater, S.F.
Tennessee Williams & Will Marchetti Toy with Our Senses
by Tyler Jeffreys
Tennessee Williams should be required reading–like Shakespeare. Williams asks primal, fundamental questions about women and men that still confuse us. Director Will Marchetti goes straight for the jugular in his unapologetic version of Williams’ “Baby Doll.”
Twenty years old and stuck in an arranged marriage with crude Archie Lee (raw Matt Shelton), Baby Doll (sensual Briana Walsh) is still holding on to her virginity. Even in 1956, that’s odd. Baby Doll’s hard-working Aunt Rose (superb Julie Dimas-Lockfield) lives with them–cooking and cleaning all the time. Yet Archie Lee calls reliable Aunt Rose useless; while he busily lusts after his flirtatious, elusive young wife.
In an eerie scene on the porch swing, Shelton reveals Archie Lee’s insecurities, as he tries in vain to seduce her. When Baby Doll rejects him with a smirk, Archie Lee pitifully whines, “No worse torture on earth than a cold woman who doesn’t let a man touch her.” Williams and Marchetti boldly illustrates the power women brandish over men.
Briana Walsh’s Baby Doll would make any modern feminist livid because she acts so helpless. She sleeps in a crib because her husband likes it! She’s incompetent: when Baby Doll tries to make lemonade, she cuts her finger with the knife. Shelton Theater gives us a girl who reminds the world of womanly power over men. All she needs to do is show up.
Silva Vacarro (silky Joe Napoli), a rival cotton gin owner, begins a tantalizing cat and mouse game. We love when Varcarro and Walsh exchange sexy glances at each other right in front of Archie Lee.
Director Marchetti highlights the sado-masochistic energy between Silva and Baby Doll. Baby Doll stammers when Silva brandishes a horse whip, tickling and teasing her tummy. Even though it’s painful to watch this adult Baby Doll play the dumb blonde, Walsh’s acting makes it hurt so good.
Marchetti’s four top-notch actors work beautifully together, a seamless ensemble. They explore the truths behind 50s male and female roles, destroying expectations. Baby Doll continues to tell a red faced Archie Lee how unprotected and uncared for she feels, excellently emasculating him in front of Silva and Aunt Rose. Williams strips the mythology from the dominant male lover, and shows both Archie Lee and Silva as weak, cringing devils.
The Shelton Theater’s production of Williams’ “Baby Doll” shows that these power dynamics are still at work–with striking and startling style.
Shelton Theater’s “Baby Doll” is a must see! A Shakespearean romp.
“Baby Doll” by Tennessee Williams, adapted by Emily Mann and Piette Laville, directed by Will Marchetti, at Shelton Theater, San Francisco, through Saturday, November 3, 2018. Info: sheltontheater.org
Cast: Briana Walsh, Matt Shelton, Joe Napoli, and Julie Dimas-Lockefield.