On death and dying

Fabulously wealthy, imperious and impossible, Flora Goforth is dying — not that she would ever admit it or the fear it engenders.

Fabulously wealthy, imperious and impossible, Flora Goforth is dying — not that she would ever admit it or the fear it engenders. At the Laura Pels Theatre, Olympia Dukakis skillfully delineates the conflicting facets of Flora’s larger-than-life personality, but they never quite seem of a piece. She captures the bravado and the vulnerability underneath, but the connection between them is tenuous. Like her Southern accent, they seem to come and go.

Of course, “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” the 1963 Tennessee Williams drama that Flora dominates, is hardly a paragon of clarity, mired in a tug-of-war between realism and symbolism.

On her mountaintop Italian retreat, where she dictates her memoirs to her secretary, Blackie (Maggie Lacey), Flora is visited by handsome young Chris (Darren Pettie). Her neighbor, known as the Witch of Capri (originally a woman’s role, played here by Edward Hibbert), tells her Chris is known as the Angel of Death, showing up at rich old women’s bedsides to comfort them in their final hours.

Chris kisses Blackie, the Witch kisses Chris, and ultimately Chris stays true to his mission and his sobriquet. You can’t help but feel Williams is reaching for a grand statement but all that comes through is an idiosyncratic, slightly labored tale. Still, even in his lesser plays, Williams’s ability to create vivid characters and memorable dialogue is remarkable. And Dukakis is a stage presence to be reckoned with, even in David C. Woolard’s unflattering costumes.

 
 
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