On the night she conceives, Serafina Delle Rose (Marisa Tomei) wakes up with a burning sensation on her breast. It was a “pain like a needle,” she tells a friend, “quick, quick, hot little stitches.” When she undresses, Serafina sees her husband’s rose tattoo on her own chest: a sign that they are going to have a son.
But her husband dies, she loses the baby, and Serafina is soon left alone to mother her sexually precocious, teenaged daughter, Rosa (Ella Rubin). While Rosa is out one night—with a sailor (Burke Swanson), no less—Serafina is visited by a genial if slightly pathetic truck driver, Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Emun Elliott). Wrestling with rumors of her husband’s infidelity, this lonely woman, a well of potential affection and loyalty, is left to decide whether she should pursue another romance.
Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo is an odd play, a little unfocused and tonally inconsistent. There is some of that typical, wrenching melodrama, complete with an offstage sexual relationship shrouded in ambiguity. This is tempered, however, with a great deal of silliness. The clumsy handling of a condom (in this revival, a packet of condoms) offers some good slapstick, while Alvaro more generally serves as a light-hearted foil to Serafina’s howling agony. He plays Chaplin’s tramp to her Blanche DuBois.
The result is a play that works in moments but never comes together as a whole. Director Trip Cullman assembles a handsome revival, and Elliott, in particular, is superb as Alvaro, sensitive not only to the humor but to the pathos of his schlemiel character. Still, without a strong vision to unite the competing impulses toward tragedy and comedy, The Rose Tattoo is an enjoyable but lopsided, somewhat unfulfilling work.
The Rose Tattoo runs through December 8th at the American Airlines Theatre. 227 W. 42nd Street New York, NY. 2 hours 30 minutes. One intermission.