BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A lush tragicomedy by Tennessee Williams, "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" is a story about a wealthy, aging madwoman facing up to imminent death in the handsome form of a poetic stranger.
Themes from earlier Williams plays mingle like ghosts in this much-rewritten work, which is so seductive in language and image that it appeared on Broadway in different productions in 1963 and 1964 — both quick flops, the latter show bankrolled by David Merrick and starring Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter.
Fans of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — and dare I say Noel Coward — know the tale as the oddball flick "Boom!"
"Milk Train" steamed into the Steinberg Center on Sunday in an okay Roundabout production directed by Michael Wilson, an expert hand at staging Williams' works. Wilson has whittled a reasonably trim version of the prolix play from Williams' several different texts. The static, repetitive drama remains far more talk than action but it's often a pleasure to hear such wordplay.
Greater enjoyment of this darkly funny farrago depends partly on whether you believe Olympia Dukakis is compelling as the heroine. Not me; Dukakis can be lovely in secondary roles but usually — as in the case here — seems forced to me whenever she ramps up her energies into star parts.
Fortunately, the vulgar, flamboyant character of Flora Goforth, whom Dukakis portrays, happens to be a self-consciously hammy creature: A former "Follies" girl enriched by several fabulous marriages, Flora now is old and dying and barricaded in her mountaintop villa on the Italian coast in 1962 while endlessly dictating her memoirs to Blackie (Maggie Lacey), a long-suffering secretary.
Then Christopher (Darren Pettie) arrives, a hunky vagabond with a saintly aura and an unfortunate reputation for visiting rich ladies shortly before they die. Popping pills and injecting morphine, Flora refuses to believe she's on the way out and tries to seduce her houseguest, who has other intentions.
The garishly-garbed Dukakis never arouses much in the way of sympathy for Flora, but she's undeniably entertaining. So is a blond-coiffed Edward Hibbert, who is poisonously fruity as a scandalmonger known as the Witch of Capri. The brooding Pettie and mournful Lacey cope well enough with their ambiguous characters.
Jeff Cowie provides a setting that suggests Flora resides in a modernistic cavern as designed by Dali.
"The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" continues through April 3 at the Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St., New York. Call (212) 719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.