McCarter Theatre Center opens their 2015-16 theatre season with Tennessee William’s Baby Doll, directed by McCarter’s Artistic Director Emily Mann. It has been adapted for the stage by Pierre Lavelle and Emily Mann.
Baby Doll took place in rural Mississippi in the 1950s. Archie Lee Meighan (Robert Joy) was a middle-aged cotton gin owner, who was married to the innocent teenage girl Baby Doll (Susannah Hoffman). Archie promised Baby Doll’s dying father that he would take care of her, so he married her and was impatiently waiting to consummate their marriage on her upcoming 20th birthday. There was a hole through one of the walls of her nursery and he was caught peeping through to catch glimpses of her. She was disgusted by the sight of him, and was trying to postpone an intimate relationship as long as possible. They lived in a decrepit house, and Baby Doll’s paternal Aunt Rose Comfort (Patricia Connelly) was also living with them.
The Meighan’s home, which was in disrepair, was said to have been haunted and had been uninhabited for a while before Archie Lee purchased it. He then lost all of his business once a neighboring plantation started ginning their own cotton. Archie Lee had been financially struggling, and was unable to make payments for his furniture. It was all repossessed one night with the exception of the dining room furniture and the crib in the nursery where Baby Doll slept. The cotton gin across the street burned down that same night. The owner, young and handsome Sicilian-born Silva Vaccaro (Dylan McDermott), paid the Meighans a visit the next morning, and asked if Archie would gin his cotton. Baby Doll was asked to entertain Silva while he worked that day, and from that point on there was a spark between them. Vaccaro’s intentions were slowly revealed, leading to a dramatic ending.
Susannah Hoffman (Spiderman 2) was brilliant as Baby Doll. This beautiful, young actress had the perfect look for the role. Hoffman demonstrated the purity and naiveté of a chaste teenager, and acted immature and flighty. Her facial expressions were priceless, having shown the emotions of surprise, disgust, joy, anger, and fear during the course of the play, and they were executed with perfection.
Robert Joy (Fargo, CSI:NY) had a very strong performance as Archie Lee Meighan. He portrayed this inept character well, who had greed in his eyes, lust in his heart, and a plan up his sleeve. Joy executed his violent anger with just enough rage to evoke emotions from the audience, yet had the ability to make us laugh.
Golden Globe winner and Emmy nominee Dylan McDermott (The Practice, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) was a suave Silva Vaccaro. This strapping, masculine actor had no problem using his charms to draw in Baby Doll and the audience as well. McDermott had very good chemistry with Hoffman.
Patricia Connelly did well playing the feeble Aunt Rose Comfort. Her mannerisms and speech were on point. It was apparent in the way she walked up and down the stairs, cooked the greens in the kitchen, and was intimidated by Archie Lee.
Edward Pierce implemented lighting and set design. Pierce lead our eyes directly where they needed to go, but also set the mood of the scene. The appearance of the wall laths, sparse attic floor boards, and scratched wallpaper for example, were very detailed. The front yard was strewn with garbage and included a swing, a rose garden, a well pump, and a dilapidated front seat of a car. It was a job well done.
The multi-directional sounds added so much dimension to the theater experience thanks to the execution of Darren L. West. The subtleness of sound at the rear of the stage and from offstage all seemed natural. A faint siren from the right gave the impression that it came from the end of a driveway, and was more organic than a blaring horn.
Emily Mann is detail oriented, and its obvious in this production of Baby Doll. Besides guiding the brilliant cast, her interpretation is to be commended. The staging was incredible. The props brought the house to life, and special effects like steam, running water, and the weapon, added yet another layer of realism. Mann also had some actors walking through the theater, which allowed the audience to feel connected.
This dark comedy will not only conjure up emotions, but will definitely make you laugh. Baby Doll is a stellar production. It has been well adapted for the stage, has a strong cast, and is well directed. This riveting production is a must see!
Baby Doll runs until Sunday, October 11. For tickets, call 609-258-2787 or click here to purchase online. Running time is 1:45 and there is no intermission.