"Is it giving you strength? It's rising up. Is it rising up to your lips? Are the lilacs rising up to your teeth?"
The Kronauer Space--a cramped, dingy, dark and dank recess somewhere off the vibrant labyrinth of the Adams House tunnels--provides the ideal stage for Jean Genet's Deathwatch, a play set during the 1940's in a cell-block of an unspecified French prison. Genet's drama percolates with modernist tensions of alienation, violence, passion and, of course, nihilism. These tensions play themselves out within the network of complicated relationships which inevitably arise when you cram three male convicts into a dark cell in the basement of Adams House.
Under the direction of Noah Kupferberg, the three male convicts, provocatively, are played by women. This literal feminization of the script raises interesting questions about the construction of masculinity, but also presents many challenges to the complex male interactions, explicitly violent and implicitly homoerotic, which fuel Genet's script. To the credit of the production, these tensions, though at times stylized and cliche, are generally sustained and credible.
Angela Delichatsios, playing "Georgie" LeFranc, holds the entire production together. Her marvelous mannerisms and convincing drawl provide the framework for a fully developed character who embodies much of the subtle nuances of affected masculinity which lie at the heart of Genet's LeFranc. Her representation of his desires and fears provides the primary intrigue for the play, and it is through her LeFranc that the play progresses. LeFranc's conflicting desire and contempt for Maurice culminate in the climactic scene which ingeniously blurs the lines between sexual and physical violence. This radiant scene captures in a few moments the entirety of Genet's homoerotic turbulence and brings the play to its decisive conclusion.
Bess Wohl's performance of Green Eyes is one-sided. Her character convincingly grapples with the poetics of existentialist fate and the maddening embrace of nihilism, but lacks the raw masculine coolness, control, and beauty that give Genet's character his depth and charisma. However, this weakness is compensated by both LeFranc's and Maurice's credible attraction for him, an attraction which renders Green Eyes more full than Wohl's performance alone.
Constantly taunting LeFranc and doting on Green Eyes, Maurice, played by Jessie Cohen, is the crucial tragic link between the two dominant men. Cohen delivers her performance with coquettish finesse, though it often becomes more irritating than attractive. Through her ability to bring out Maurice's naivete and fragile ego, she succeeds in shaping the tragic victim of masculine power games. Cohen is at her best during the penultimate scene in which her character, imbued with all the cattiness of a young boy in a man's world, challenges LeFranc.
If even just to witness Angela Delichatsios's roughly sexual and smolderingly psychological performance, Deathwatch is well worth the trip to the Adams House tunnels. Genet fans, especially, will relish her delivery of LeFranc. There are slow moments (the first scene with the guard is unquestionably the worst), and there are moments when Genet's abrasion and sexual dynamism are disappointingly watered down. But, overall, the play hums along with only a few unnecessary bumps and lulls.