The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

Rosalind Friedman

Strange and fascinating, "The Milk Train" is illumined by Dukakis and Wilson

“The Milk Train” has stopped for awhile on the Hartford Stage; when it pulls out of the station on June 15, this revival: gutsy, sexual, funny and ultimately compelling, will be remembered for the richly-textured performance of Olympia Dukakis as Mrs. Sissy Goforth, the earthy warrior fighting death, and Michael Wilson’s superb direction. Not to say that there are not other features which are outstanding in this production. Kevin Anderson, hot off his recent great performance in Come Back Little Sheba on Broadway, is a handsomely hungry con-man Chris Flanders, the out-of-work poet who makes mobiles while helping old rich ladies to die. Jeff Cowie’s beautifully complex set, punctuated by elaborately carved beds and giant rock formations, and a glistening mobile, hanging above, all lit by Rui Rita, and enhanced by John Gromada’s sound of waves and original music, also serves as a character in the play. David Woolard’s costumes are works of art. This piece is so atmospheric you can feel Tennessee Williams lurking in the corner.

  The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore was staged as a play in Spoleto, Italy in 1962, and had a short run on Broadway in January of 1963. But it opened the following year with a new cast: Tallulah Bankhead, too old, and too sick from drugs and alcohol to remember her lines, and that golden boy, Tab Hunter. Marion Seldes played Blackie, Mrs. Goforth’s secretary. It lasted for nine performances. There have been many stage productions since and a film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were both miscast for their roles.

  The play is very difficult, and very strange. Mrs. Goforth, an extremely wealthy widow, who was married four times, lives high on a mountaintop villa on Italy’s Divina Costiera. The action takes place over two days in August in the1960’s. Goforth, now dying, herself, is writing her memoirs. She has installed a communications system all over her extensive property, and blows a horn when she wants to contact her secretary—which she does-all day and into the wee hours of the night. Maggie Lacey as the beleaguered Blackie, suffering from her young husband’s death and Goforth’s erratic behavior, plays prim well; but her anguish is too hidden to be realized.

  Into this, Chris Flanders arrives with a book of his poetry in hand; bitten by Goforth’s dog, starving and penniless, he engages Blackie’s sympathy and ends up under the silken sheets of the bed of the pink villa, one of three on the island. Although Goforth is warned by her friend, The Witch of Capri, depicted with a knowing air by Sondra Roberts, that Chris is a questionable character, who has been involved in the deaths of many of her women friends, Goforth is drawn to this man who believes that he is carrying on some Hindu tradition; yearning for love, she throws off her nightgown and dresses up to meet him, in heavy makeup, a colorful gown and curled red wig. Later, at the moment when she accepts her imminent death and Chris removes that red wig from her white hair, has got to be the most deeply cruelly touching moment I can remember.

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore : illumined by the dynamic Olympia Dukasis, is not a perfect play but utterly fascinating, will play through June 15 at Hartford Stage.

(This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO)

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