Period of Adjustment

SF Playhouse presents…..
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Bill English
The mark of a good marriage is when
only one of you goes crazy at a time!"
-Heinz Kohut

SF Playhouse commemorates Tennessee Williams’ centennial with his rarely produced comedy, Period of Adjustment. The play was first produced on Broadway in 1960 and two years later made into a movie starring a very young Jane Fonda.

Period of Adjustment opens on a Christmas Eve in 1958, in the suburban Nashville home of Korean War veteran Ralph Bates (Johnny Moreno). As the curtain rises, Bates has just quit his job and his wife has left him. His wartime buddy George Haverstick (Patrick Alparone), arrives unexpectedly with his brand new wife Isabel (MacKenzie Meehan). Their marriage is not doing so well. Both couples seem to be enduring an agonizing, upsetting period of adjustment.

The play was written near the end of William’s series of great successes, between Sweet Bird of Youth and The Night of the Iguana. Williams, stung by critics who complained about his dark subjects, decided to write a happy play and Period of Adjustment is the result. However , it would be hard to call this play happy. The plot is a strange mixture reminiscent of the style of both Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon – the play feels like a satire of a tragedy instead of the comedy it was intended to be.

There are certainly many funny moments as the couples collide with one another, but although the dialogue is choice, the ending is predictable well before the curtain falls on the first act. In reality, the wounds the couples inflict on each other are serious and all too real. One wonders that they can be so easily healed when the play finishes and everyone is back in love again. The happy ending is far from convincing and feels more like “grin and bear it” than “hearts and flowers”.

Nevertheless, Period of Adjustment is a rewarding experience. The direction is perfect, the pacing beautifully orchestrated and the set is vintage fifties down to the last detail. Nina Ball’s design is excellent and provides three distinct areas on the stage clearly visible from every angle. English condensed the three act play into two which speeds the action and keeps the long speeches less turgid. The clever remarks make the plot seem frothy and light despite the heavy undercurrent of disillusion, insult and anger. Still, Williams’ dialogue is amusing and incisive, always a pleasure to hear.

Williams does not seem entirely at home with the dynamics of heterosexual marriage. If he had lived in a time when it was possible to write openly about gay relationships, Period of Adjustment might have been more effective. The obvious but unstated erotic connection between the two male characters is more interesting and far more authentic than the hetero relationships. When Ralph reminds us over and over that his wife is turning their son into a sissy, one cannot help but wonder if this if what Williams’ father said about him.

English brings out the best in his performers although Meehan steals the show for this reviewer. She is the perfect outraged innocent when she describes her outrage with men by saying, “If they can’t make ‘em any better, they should stop production,” and when she calls her daddy to tell him between tears that she might be coming home very soon. Her heartbreak might make us laugh, but the anguish her character suffers is always right beneath her words.

Tennessee Williams’ brother Dakin said that “not a single person was raped, castrated, lynched, committed or even eaten” in Period of Adjustment. The truth is that every character comes very close to doing each one of these deeds as the play progresses.

SF Playhouse productions are always well worth seeing and this one has the added value of Tennessee Williams exquisitely crafted dialogue. Just listening to the way he puts words together is a magnificent treat.

Period of Adjustment continues through January 14, at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter Street between Powell and Mason, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8 and Saturdays at 3 and 8. Tickets are available at 415-677-9596, or at; half-price tickets can be ordered at