Comedy is not what we associate with Tennessee Williams. But Period of Adjustment, one of Williams' lesser-known plays, is every bit a comedy. A Christmas comedy. Could the master of lyrical poignancy succeed in a genre so foreign to his greatest plays? This production, under the adept direction of Bill English, shows how versatile the playwright really was — and it makes the case that a dose of romcom holiday sentiment, properly handled, isn't that far from lyrical poignancy after all. Period of Adjustment follows two young couples so mismatched they have quickly become estranged. The rules of comedy dictate that they make up — inevitably yet improbably — and, for the first time, fall in love. The holiday conceit makes the plot predictable; you quickly infer that, by the end of the play, compassion, lust, and some good old-fashioned Christmas spirit will reconcile the beleaguered couples. But under English's well-paced direction, the mechanism never feels trite. By letting the comic tension melt into slow-burning desire, he shows us that a Williams seduction can have beauty and power even when it's preceded by dialogue like, "The world is a big hospital, and I'm a nurse in it." These characters — a Southern belle fighting for a lost society; a disaffected, bourbon-drinking husband — and the themes — sexual asymmetry in marriage; the emptiness of mid-century Southern mores — resonate more powerfully in Williams' better-known works. But this hidden gem of a play not only showcases his ability to move us in many different registers, it makes the holiday spirit into a real and powerful force.
Tuesdays-Saturdays; Tuesdays-Saturdays; Sun., Nov. 27; Tuesdays-Saturdays. Starts: Nov. 15. Continues through Jan. 14, 2011