Robert Tanitch reviews The Local Stigmatic at Old Red Lion Theatre, London EC1
Heathcote Williams’ disturbing 60-minute play had its premiere at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 1966 and transferred to the Royal Court in London for a one-night stand in a double-bill with Harold Pinter’s Dwarfs. Williams was 22.
Al Pacino turned the play into a film in 1990. I watched it for the first time on YouTube having got home from the theatre. I am not surprised it never got a cinema release. The film, like the play, feels like an extract and incomplete.
The Local Stigmatic is being revived on its 50th birthday by Michael Toumey whose production opens with a song by Ray Davis: “I don’t want to be like anybody else.”
Two frustrated working class mates (Wilson James and William Frazer) go dog racing and read the gossip pages of newspapers. On a visit to a pub they pick up an actor (Tom Sawyer) they’ve seen on television and beat him up for no other reason than their envy of his mild fame.
Initially, they ingratiate, flatter and flirt outrageously with him. Pacino knew exactly how to play this scene. The eyes are perfect. The English actors tend to overdo it.
One of the problems is that Toumey’s production does not explore the relationship between the mates, leaving it, as does Heathcote, in the air. There is no sub-text.
The other problem is that James shouts far too much; it’s never a good idea to be shouting in a small theatre venue.