His Greatness @ Cherry Lane Theatre, New York

cast list
Michael Busillo, Dan Domigues, Peter Goldfarb

directed by
Tom Gualtieri
Playwright Daniel MacIvor, in his play His Greatness, part of the ongoing Fringe Festival, has set for himself an almost impossible task, namely to dramatize several days during the final years of the life of famous dramatist Tennessee Williams.

It’s an inadvisable topic for a play in particular because of the prominent stature of the subject and the inevitable comparisons MacIvor’s writing face next to Williams’s. But MacIvor has decided to tackle it anyway, throwing caution to the wind, and he ultimately achieves rather tepid results.

Predictably, His Greatness, a fairly by-the-books portrait of an aging genius on his way out, falls short of even Williams’s least great work.
Without calling Williams by name throughout the duration of the play, the three characters in the play are instead named merely The Playwright, The Assistant, and The Young Man, thinly veiling the identity of the subject because of the story’s fictionalized nature.

As the play begins, the playwright and his preening assistant are bickering about trivialities – how much the playwright is drinking and the radio show on which he’s about to be a call-in guest. There’s a familiar, predictable quality to the humor, punctuated by quips that fall flat, like, “That’s not your soul; it’s your hangover.” The same general flaw lingers throughout the rest of the play, characters rarely rising above caricature.

Matters aren’t helped by an uneven cast of three, in particular Peter Goldfarb as the playwright, whose performance occasionally rises above mediocrity but is hindered by a rather regrettable Southern accent, characterized by an “Oh, ma dee-ah” grandeur but lacking in authenticity and consistency. Dan Domingues and Michael Busillo are each fine as the dual personalties the playwright’s life – order and chaos respectively. But their characters remain largely one-dimensional, particularly the young man, who’s mostly painted as a scheming, manipulative junkie, serving more as a device to set off the playwright’s self-destructive lust than as a flesh-and-blood character within the play.

Though MacIvor clearly means well, this production lacks the sort of outside-the-box imaginative approach that would set it apart from any other biographical drama. Take a great playwright, add water, and you’ve essentially got something resembling His Greatness, a soupy mix of pseudo-history and paint-by-numbers details from Williams’s final years. There are snatches of potential throughout, namely to be found in the play’s consideration of power dynamics amongst the three characters, but it remains to be seen whether these compelling parts could be tied together to encompass a more satisfying whole. At this stage, the end result is lacking.

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