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The Gnadiges Fraulein

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The Gnadiges Fraulein, Trap Door Theatre. Written during a period of deep depression and consequent amphetamine dependence, Tennessee Williams's The Gnadiges Fraulein ("gracious young lady") is an almost surreal farce reflecting his temporary break with reality. Set on the "southernmost" tip of the United States on the fictional Cocaloony Key, it's the tragic story of a displaced German singer who must compete with gigantic birds for fish to earn her keep at a boardinghouse. Too fantastical and abrupt to sustain any lasting metaphor, it ran for a short time in New York, but after poor reviews it was soon forgotten.

An unusual choice, but director Amantha Sam May is loyal to the work in this Trap Door production, focusing on the physical humor and the rivalry between the two members of Williams's southern-lady Greek chorus: Polly (Beata Pilch), the key's bloodsuckingly charming social columnist, and the equally saccharine Molly (Eileen James), the singer's landlady. Pilch and James can be wildly funny. But the meat of the plot, about the destroyed chanteuse turning into an animal, gets lost, and Kristie Hassinger's weak presence as the Fraulein--her German accent consistently wavers--doesn't help the underdeveloped script. Though Williams suggests parallels between the artist and the animal, his writing here isn't as clear and concrete as in The Glass Menagerie, where he links Laura's fragility with her glass animal collection.

Williams, still battling addiction, moved on to write one of his most beautiful plays, Out Cry. Trap Door's current production is less a testament to Williams as a playwright than a sad reminder of the pain he endured, as a gifted creator and as a human being. --Gabrielle S. Kaplan

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