Serafina, the protagonist of "The Rose Tattoo," is a mess. For three years after the death of her husband, she mopes around the house wearing nothing but a nightgown, worshiping her husband's ashes, neglecting her teen-age daughter.
"The Rose Tattoo" itself also is something of a mess. For three hours after the Tennessee Williams play begins in James Waring's production at Catholic University, it mopes around the stage wearing nothing but ethnic color, worshiping its playwright's text, neglecting its audience.
Williams and actress Maureen Stapleton scored a hit with "The Rose Tattoo" in 1951, and it became an Oscar-winning screen vehicle for Anna Magnani four years later. But the play has not held up.
It tries hard to be rambunctious, warm-hearted comedy, but before the laughs have a chance to begin, Serafina's Italian immigrant husband is murdered offstage in the somber second scene. The rest of the evening alternates between knockabout farce and wistful romance. The parts don't jell.
Serafina is supposed to be raucous and zesty, but simultaneously she is so bereaved that she doesn't leave her house for three years. This seems implausible, not to say impossible. Dorothea Hammond is better at barking out Serafina's passions than she is at suggesting Serafina's sorrow.
It takes Alvaro Mangiacavallo to snap Serafina out of the blues. He's an immigrant truck driver, just like her husband was, and Anthony Risoli's energetic performance in the role is a welcome relief when it finally occurs deep into the play. Risoli takes one too many pratfalls, but they are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Though it's hard to believe that Alvaro changes Serafina's life overnight -- even to the point of reconciling her with the facts about her dead husband's faithfulness -- it's not hard to see what attracts Serafina to such a scrappy charmer.
Meg Kelly and Mitch Landrieu make a tender couple as Serafina's daughter and her sailor beau. With Hammond they turn Serafina's inspection of the sailor into the play's funniest scene.
There are 19 minor characters -- almost all of them distracting and expendable. Cutting out half of them would make for a much sharper play.
Waring designed his own sets and lighting in a pedestrian but functional fashion.