THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE, Canongate Theatre Company, at Chicago Dramatists. When Tennessee Williams succumbed to grandiloquent self-pity and neurasthenia, nobody wallowed better. This 1962 work is vintage minor Williams, a vehicle for divas Tallulah Bankhead and Hermione Baddely demanding an almost operatic overkill. Not surprisingly, it teems with Williams’s patented emotional effusions and chartreuse prose, which over 125 minutes can take their toll.
Marge Uhlarik’s fittingly grandiose staging focuses on filthy-rich Flora Goforth, a former beauty now dying with histrionic fervor. Slurping codeine on the terrace of her villa near Amalfi, Flora recalls her tabloid life and four husbands. Catalyzing her confessions is Christopher Flanders, a mysterious poet-sculptor who functions as Flora’s “Trojan horse guest” and personal “angel of death.” The work’s conclusion ecstatically anticipates Williams’s own demise–though it’s a far more romantic end than his real death choking on a safety cap.
Flora blends Blanche’s fantasy mongering with Amanda’s suspiciousness. Franette Liebow plays her like a well-cracked belle–she’s elegiac, bitchy, and rhapsodic, so mired in memories that the present escapes her. John Westby, though not the hunk the script implies, grounds Christopher in an artist’s neediness. As the Witch of Capri, Flora’s rival, Annie Slivinski chews the scenery, and Kimberly Ann Kurtenbach efficiently effaces herself as Flora’s all-suffering secretary. As with Northlight Theatre’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, true Williams fans will not be able to resist. –Lawrence Bommer