Tucked inside an oversized brownstone in the exclusive old-money enclave of Gramercy Park, the Players Club is the kind of place that has a mandatory bag check upon entrance into its storied digs. Founded by 19th century Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, whose props from Julius Caesar, Hamlet and classics are displayed throughout; the club’s well-preserved rooms reverberate with its rich history.
The White Horse Theater couldn’t have picked a better place to stage Tennessee Williams’ rarely produced wistful and boozy one-act, A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot, earlier this month. Focusing on two aging party girls who grasp for purpose while on a bender in St. Louis, it’s their past that drives the show. With marriages a distant but persisting memory, Bessie (Linda S. Nelson) and Flora (Mary Goggin) use excess to try to fill a deepening void. Think Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous but with less agency.
Williams was an alcoholic and wrote about drunks with unflinching compassion. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick drinks until he hears a “click” in his mind when everything becomes manageable. Williams admitted to doing this himself. As we meet Bessie and Flora, they burst into an empty tavern that’s patiently waiting for a crowd that may never come. The women are at the point in the evening when the booze has obviously taken hold but the satiating “click” remains elusive. When the waiter (Peter Feliz) serves them two giant fishbowls of beer, a man in the audience bellows, “I’d like one of those.”
The makeshift stage is the entrance to the Players Club’s expansive dining room, creating very little separation between the loosely arranged chairs in the audience and the circular table from which the two women exchange witty barbs, each one cutting a little deeper than the last. The sense of community was amped up by a makeshift bar in the back of the theater serving stiff drinks. I estimated my whiskey soda to be about three quarters pure liquor.
I nursed it throughout the short show, each potent sip bringing me closer to the characters. As dark as the show gets, there’s an unrelenting humor that pulses throughout and kept the audience roaring with laughter, even as we could feel the very basic structural foundations of these characters begin to crumble. In the program, Williams explains, “there are some very serious matters at which the only thing to do is laugh.”
When the actors took their bows and a bland yet soothing jazz band started up, the elation mixed with more ambivalent feelings and melded into disparate conversations as patrons snapped back into their lives and finished their drinks. Later on as the crowd dwindled, Goggin and Nelson emerged in plainclothes and made their way to the bar. As they passed by a small circle of people in conversation, one woman with short blonde hair and an almost overly enthusiastic smile began clapping. She was close enough to have easily spoken to the actresses or invited them into her conversation, but she continued to clap as if to her they remained Bessie and Flora.