Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings takes the small stage of the Off the Wall Theatre in a tight, little production directed by Dale Gutzman. Set in a seedy coastal bar in Southern California in the early 1970s, the show features a psychologically misshapen group of people struggling to get by in the murky storm of human existence. Gutzman brings together a solidly entertaining cast. Climb into the tiny theatre for the show and hang out with a few people you’d be glad not to know outside of a bar in 1972.
The bar itself is okay. Looks real presentable. The type of tiny dive that doesn’t have anything on tap. It’s got a jukebox and a couple of beer lights. Everybody there seems kind of close to each other, but that’s just proximity. To a certain extent everyone there would prefer to be alone. It’s true: if there was more of a desire to be together, there’d be more of a central plot arc about the show. Instead there’s a bunch of internal monologues bled out into the ether of a dark drama.
Robert Hirschi plays a flawed man behind the bar. His name is Monk. It’s his place. He lives upstairs. There’s a defeated shuffle about him. Hirschi say sas much with his downcast gaze as he does with any bit of dialogue.
Michael Pocaro plays the fallen physician everyone knows as Doc. Maybe he’s every bit as good as he’s ever been or maybe he’s just really good at coming up with the right lies. Pocaro masters the delicate balance of verbally articulate drunkenness to keep the character interesting even when he isn’t saying anything.
Jenny Kosek plays Violet...a young drifter who lives above an amusement hall. There’s a zombielike beauty about the character that occasionally manages to animate into genuine warmth. Kosek has a tremendous amount of patience in the role. A lesser actor would have tried to pry more evidence of life into the role. Life has been and gone in Violet. Kosek’s a restless ghost in the role. It’s quite haunting.
If Kosek’s playing a ghost, Max Williamson is playing a cheap trailer park vampire named Bill. Williamson etches a little bit of charisma into a guy who never worked a day in his life...a guy who drifts from one relationship to the next. He’s at the end of one looking for his next while sipping on a beer.
Bill’s current willing victim is a woman named Leona played by Marilyn White. White does a good job of conjuring the maternal end of a nomadic woman who has taken pity on Bill and everyone else at a bar. Maybe she’s doing it to help people out or maybe she’s just doing it so that she can find people to feel better than. There’s a bitterness in her as well.
Nathan Danzer plays Steve--a genuinely nice person who has been forced into the margins of society. Danzer is dopy and likable in a performance that contrasts well against the rest of the ensemble.
James Strange is a formidable figure as Quentin: a nihilist who is new to the bar. He’s just in for a drink. He’s...not exactly surprised to see a kid. named Bobby has followed him there. Jake Russell plays Bobby as a traveling explorer. Russell has a charismatic momentum about him in the role of someone in who runs the risk of ending up where Steve is given the wrong luck.
It’s two hours at a bar. A few people take turns gathering each other’s attention. Occasionally there’s an altercation. Gutzman and company juggle the chaos onstage when it arrives to punctuate on otherwise slow, moody drama from the early 1970s.
Off the Wall’s production of Small Craft Warnings runs through March 3rd at Off the Wall’s space on 127 E. Wells St. For ticket. reservations and more, call 262-509-0945 or visit Off the Wall Theatre online.