Shakespeare Theatre of NJ kicks off season with Tennessee Williams’ magical ‘The Rose Tattoo’

rose tattoo review


Antoinette LaVecchia and Anthony Marble co-star in “The Rose Tattoo” at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison, through June 18.

“There is something wild in the air,” says a character in Tennessee Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo,” currently being presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at Drew University in Madison. Indeed, the characters in this play — which is set in a small town somewhere near New Orleans in the 1950s, with all of the action taking place inside or in front of one run-down home — don’t attempt any grand, larger-than-life feats, but their actions still take on a magical, almost mythical quality.

Williams’ darker, more tragic plays may be more well known. But “The Rose Tattoo” — which won four Tonys, including Best Play, when it premiered in 1951, as well as a Best Actress Oscar for Anna Magnani when it was made into a film in 1955 — is still a major work. It kicks off the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s 2023 season, which will be the last for artistic director Bonnie J. Monte, after a 33-year run.

Monte directs the production herself, and writes in the program that she was “lucky and privileged” to have worked with Williams shortly before his death in 1983. “He has influenced my life in the theatre more than any other playwright besides Shakespeare,” she writes. “The Rose Tattoo is Tennessee’s homage to love and life, and this production is my grateful homage to him. I wanted him by my side on this, my final season, as Artistic Director.”

The main character in the play (originally three acts, but presented here in two) is Serafina Delle Rose (Antoinette LaVecchia), a Sicilian-born seamstress whose husband, Rosario, drives a truck while surreptitiously transporting illegal cargo for local criminals. They have a 12-year-daughter, Rosa (Billie Wyatt). And Serafina, who is deeply in love with Rosario, is pregnant with their second child.


Billie Wyatt and Isaac Hickox-Young in “The Rose Tattoo.”

We never see Rosario, though. He is murdered early in the play during a trucking trip — his last illicit one before giving that up, Serafina believes — and Serafina is distraught.

Williams then jumps three years into the future. The pregnancy ended in miscarriage and Serafina, still overcome with grief, no longer leaves her home, though she does keep doing her seamstress work. Rosa is now 15 and is being courted by an older sailor, Jack (Isaac Hickox-Young).

Everything changes, though, when another truck driver (though not a criminal), Alvaro (Anthony Marble), comes into Serafina’s life. He’s not the dashing figure that Rosario was (or, at least, that Serafina remembers him to be), but he does remind her of him in some ways, and their tentative relationship becomes the focus of the play. Serafina, meanwhile, tries to keep Rosa and Jack away from each other; Jack, though very sweet and respectful, wears an earring and “pants so tight that a woman ought not to look at him,” Serafina says, though one gets the sense that she would try to keep any potential suitor away from Rosa.

“There is a wild bunch of boys and girls in this town,” Serafina tells Alvaro. “In Sicily, boys would dance with the boys because a girl and a boy could not dance together unless they was going to be married. But here they run wild.”

LaVecchia is excellent as Serafina, who seems to have a deep need for love, and to be ruled by stormy emotions. And Marble is appropriately dry and funny as Alvaro, who is a bit of a sad sack but clearly the kind of supportive, down-to-earth person that Serafina needs in her life.

Wyatt has perhaps the hardest task, since the 12-year-old Rosa is still, really, a child, chasing lightning bugs around the property, and the 15-year-old Rosa has grown up a lot in three years and is eager to embark on her first serious romantic relationship; Wyatt basically has to play two different people, and does so convincingly. Hickox-Young is fine as Jack, as well, though the character is a bit bland: he seems to be in the play mainly to ignite a war between mother and daughter.


Dino Curia, left, with Anthony Marble and Antoinette LaVecchia in “The Rose Tattoo.”

While the focus may be on the two pairs of lovers, Williams also makes this play a portrait of life in a small, immigrant-filled town, with mischievous children and small-minded gossips always hovering around. Supporting characters include Estelle Hohengarten (Rachael Fox), the brash, unapologetic “other woman” who had had an affair with Rosario; a sometimes scowling priest, Father De Leo (Robert Gregory); a door-to-door Salesman (Dino Curia); a calm, collected Doctor (Fred Dennehy); and a crazy, cackling lady known as The Strega (Chantal Jean-Pierre), which is Italian for “witch.”

There are 19 characters in all, played by 19 actors (i.e., no one takes on more than one role). LaVecchia, who was born in Italy, is also credited as the dialect coach, helping to keep many of the actors’ heavy Italian accents accurate.

The set, designed by Sarah Beth Hall, is mostly devoted to Serafina’s colorful, cluttered living room, but has enough room outside for us to see visitors come and go, and the children playing, and The Strega showing up occasionally to freak everybody out. This may be a small town, in a remote location, but Williams imagined a rich world there, and this production does justice to it.

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey presents “The Rose Tattoo” at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University in Madison, through June 18. Visit


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