In Tennessee Williams' comedy The Mutilated, Trinket and Celeste have a strained but workable friendship. Celeste, who has just gotten out of jail on Christmas Eve, is a moocher and is obliviously upbeat. Trinket is supported by a gushing Texas oil well, but she chooses to live in a cheap hotel in New Orleans. She knows Celeste wants her to pay for dinner at Commander's Palace or Galatoire's, but she rhapsodizes about going to a Chinese restaurant for moo goo gai pan — a "very delicate dish," she says with an air of sophistication and self-satisfaction.
Coupled with Gnadiges Fraulein — the two plays were billed as "slapstick tragedy" — The Mutilated closed a week after opening on Broadway in 1966. The Mutilated probably would have fared better in New Orleans, because the work is set here and is full of local characters, including French Quarter drunks, buskers and a couple of sailors looking for a wild night while on shore leave. Its humor may have been ahead of its time in the 1960s, but a production starring Mink Stole and directed by Cosmin Chivu was successful in Provincetown, Massachusetts and New York before the duo remounted the show here.
At the Contemporary Arts Center, Donna Duplantier played the irrepressibly cheerful Celeste, a woman in no way humbled by her stint in jail, hand-to-mouth lifestyle, propensity to trade sex for favors or her brother's refusal to loan her $5. He has arranged a job for her, but she has no intention of working, let alone in a bakery — when Trinket (Stole) is willing to buy her food and booze in exchange for friendship.
Stole is best known for appearing in John Waters' films, and Trinket isn't without resemblance to Dottie Hinkle, the neighbor victimized by Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, or Peggy Gravel, the neurotic housewife in Desperate Living. Trinket is lonely and scarred by the work's namesake "mutilation," a mastectomy. It makes her feel unwomanly, and she harbors it as a shameful secret. Celeste is the only one who knows, and she uses it to blackmail Trinket into paying for things.
Trinket is optimistic and forgiving, which is perhaps appropriate for an offbeat Christmas story. Stole nicely balanced Trinket's giddy efforts to seduce a drunken sailor with firm indignation over standards not maintained at the Silver Dollar Hotel.
Duplantier was hilarious as the selfish and opportunistic Celeste. She constantly pushed up and called attention to her breasts, never letting the audience, Trinket or anyone else forget why she feels superior to Trinket. But the two women share an outlook — similar to Blanche DuBois' delusions of grandeur in A Streetcar Named Desire — that gives them common ground in avoiding harsh realities.
The work features a live jazz band onstage, and the bandleader is part of the show. There is a chorus of French Quarter street characters, which director Chivu smartly deployed to change sets without stopping the action. There also are a couple of sailors (Evan Spigelman, Moose Jackson) who easily slipped from a barroom scene into the thick of Trinket's delusions and seamlessly out of the hotel.
The comedy has a strong New Orleans feel to it, and Williams seems to have animated some of the types of characters he must have met in the French Quarter. The stigma of mastectomy has changed, but the repetition of the term "mutilated" doesn't let the audience forget how it was viewed when the work was written. The comedy captures living on the margins with a mix of romantic charm and petty horror, and it's an offbeat testament to the need for friendship, even from difficult friends.