‘The Rose Tattoo’: Marisa Tomei ‘valiant’ in ‘garbled’ Tennessee Williams revival

In recent years, Roundabout Theatre Company has demonstrated a knack for pairing stellar actresses in revivals by acclaimed playwrights, including Annette Bening in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” (2019), Jessica Lange in Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (2016), and Diane Lane in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” (2016).

That trend continues this fall with Marisa Tomei’s return to the stage in Tennessee Williams’s early-career play “The Rose Tattoo.” Set in a predominantly Sicilian community in a Gulf Coast town in 1950, the play centers on Tomei’s Serafina Delle Rose, a widowed seamstress who finds lust after her husband’s death with a man who resembles her late spouse.

This production of “Rose Tattoo,” which originated at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016, officially opened on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre on October 15. Trip Cullman directs the 18-member ensemble.

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“The Rose Tattoo” received decidedly divided reviews from critics. Ben Brantley (New York Times) calls the production “untethered,” with Cullman’s direction “imaginative but erratic.” In the center is a “valiant” Tomei, who Brantley calls “a bold and inventive comic performer” who nevertheless starts out “fluttery and anxious from the get-go.” Of the ensemble, he calls Emun Elliott “likable” and Tina Benko “formidable.”

Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) gives the production three-out-of-five stars, saying, “[T]he tone of the play and production waver too much to leave a permanent impression.” Feldman remarks that Tomei is “not ideally cast,” but her “great talent for romantic comedy clicks into place,” and he also gives kudos to Elliott who is “charming as hell.”

In a less favorable, two-out-of-five star take, Alexis Soloski (Guardian) says that this mounting of “Rose Tattoo” is “garbled and tiresome,” with Cullman’s direction coming across with “desperate energy and garbled sense of time and place.” Soloski does praise Tomei, though, who is “sensuous and delightful” and delivers a “delightful turn.”

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How might “Rose Tattoo” fare at the Tonys given these lukewarm notices? If Tony history is any indication, the show’s appeal with voters has diminished over time. The original production in 1951 scored four Tony nominations and took home all of those trophies, including Best Play, Featured Actor (Eli Wallach), Featured Actress (Maureen Stapleton) and Scenic Design. The first revival in 1966 did not fare as well, scoring only one nomination for Featured Actress (Maria Tucci). And the most recent revival in 1995 also scored only one bid, for Best Revival.

Based on the reviews it received, “Rose Tattoo” will most likely miss out on a Best Revival nomination. There are at least seven other contenders in the category, six of which will open after “Rose Tattoo” closes, and that onslaught of fresher shows plus these mixed reviews do not bode well for its prospects.

The one most viable chance it has of hanging onto that single Tony nomination that the previous two productions received is Tomei. The role of Serafina has scored its fair share of awards attention. Five years after Stapleton won the Tony for the role in Featured Actress, Anna Magnani claimed Best Actress at the Oscars for the film adaptation. Since then, the role hasn’t garnered Tony attention, though, and neither has Tomei. The Oscar winner (“My Cousin Vinny,” 1992) has appeared on Broadway four previous times—most recently in “The Realistic Joneses” in 2014—but has never earned a Tony nomination. Given this early state of play, it seems likely that “Rose Tattoo” will not help her buck that trend.

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