September 22, 2015

Everyone onstage looks a little clammy at times in the enjoyable if slightly tame new stage adaptation of “Baby Doll” at the McCarter Theater Center here. The once-grand but now visibly crumbling mansion in which much of the action takes place looks as if it would give scant protection from the fierce Mississippi Delta sun. But the tensions that inflame its inhabitants are the primary cause of any excessive perspiration. If you’ve seen the sensation-causing 1956 movie, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Elia Kazan, you will probably recall that the clammiest character by far is Archie Lee Meighan, played here by Robert Joy with an oily desperation. Archie Lee has been married to a comely young woman, referred to only by the endearment of the title, for some time, but by agreement with the girl’s now-dead father, the marriage can only be consummated on her 20th birthday, now just days away. Unfortunately, Mr. Joy’s Archie Lee, who looks perpetually as if he’s just run a marathon in bare feet, cannot take much anticipatory pleasure in the prospect of getting his wife out of the crib she still sleeps in and into the marriage bed. There may be no marriage bed to sleep in. His cotton-gin business is in ruins after the opening of a rival company, and the couple’s furniture is soon hauled out of the house. This mortification so appalls Baby Doll (Susannah Hoffman) that she threatens to withhold her favors in perpetuity, or at least until all that furniture comes back.