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.