It is difficult not to think of Anna Magnani and the 1995 film adaptation of The Rose Tattoo when watching this Roundabout Theatre Company revival at the American Airlines Theatre. Hers was such a stunning performance, that I kept waiting for that Serafina to erupt out of Marisa Tomei. This is unfair to Tomei, of course. But it does say something about this production that was neither here nor there. Like the waves on the shore, and the clouds in the sky, in the astonishing projection design by Lucy Mackinnon, there was always something stirring, but little washed up on shore.
In the Gulf Coast in 1950 is an enclave of Sicilians. Immigrants, first and second generations mixing with all other sorts. At the center is the home of Serafina Delle Rose, a seamstress. At the center of the home is her altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary, on whose goodness and guidance Serafina depends. The center of Serafina’s world, however, is her husband, Rosario. His body is a temple. His soul is directly connected to hers. Serafina is a woman of the spirit and the senses. When she extends her arm she expects, she depends on, the reality that her husband will be there. When he is killed in an accident involving his truckload of bananas, her life collapses like a tent losing its main pole.
This is how the story begins. Serafina is at her lowest point, THE lowest point in the whole universe. She crawls into her hole and lives on her sewing for three years. All cries of comfort and reassurance are ignored until her daughter Rosa (Ella Rubin) is ready to take the stage at her high school graduation. Suddenly Serafina is like a mole coming out into the light to discover that the only living person she cares about is ready to fly the nest.
As she careens out into the world she falls flat on her face. In addition, she is greeted with what everyone else considers old news - that her precious Rosario was intimate with another woman. Which means not only did he betray her, everyone else did as well by keeping the secret from her.
The first act of this story is nearly a Greek tragedy in its depth and scope. The second is a flat out comedy. Or tries to be.
When a passing door to door salesman sets his sights on Serafina, he is challenged by the driver he just ran off the road, Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott). Alvaro is a passionate but wayward man looking for a port in a storm. In return he offers love and affection. Serafina is looking for a sign from Mary – a sign that life is meant to be inhaled. In return – who knows?
These two begin a love dance that is almost backwards. The road to connection, however, is so broad it is almost slapstick, and goes against the language of the play. Serafina is a woman who must be worn down with wooing. This Serafina has the white flag raised from the moment she and Alvaro meet. He has little to do except keep the pressure on. We have no chance to care about the outcome because the romance, that is the new center of the story, turns into a romp. Making this “Tennessee Williams-Light.”
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
"First produced in 1951, when it (astonishingly) became the winner of Williams’s only Tony Award for Best Play, The Rose Tattoo is perhaps the most hopeful and lighthearted work in its author’s suffering-packed canon."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Although the tone of the play and production waver too much to leave a permament impression, The Rose Tattoo has an interesting position in the Williams canon. There is no shortage, in his plays, of lustful, delusional women who fall for attractive younger men. But rarely do they have, as here, even the hope of a happy ending."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Marisa Tomei paired with Broadway newcomer Emun Elliott are wonderful together. So much chemistry and heat from their unbridled passion, you half expect the stage to catch fire."
Roma Torre for NY1
"Marisa Tomei's earthy performance as half-crazed Sicilian American widow Serafina Delle Rose is the main attraction in Trip Cullman's maddeningly uneven production, first seen in 2016 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with a mostly different supporting cast. Tomei emotes up a storm more brooding even than the clouds billowing over the Louisiana Gulf Coast in Lucy Mackinnon's atmospheric wraparound projections. But director Cullman has no feel for the tricky brew of pathos, passion, poetry, humor and clunky symbolism required of this second-tier Williams work. Instead, it's shrill and hysterically over the top, poorly paced and blighted by some very large Italianate acting with all the authenticity of an Olive Garden chicken alfredo. Troppo is the word that comes to mind."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"The Rose Tattoo is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina Delle Rose. She, too, is kind of lovely — if lost."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety