New City Stage Company's production of

The Woolgatherer

, now at the Walnut's Studio 5, is very much like springtime. This isn't because William Mastrosimone's bereft strangers, Cliff and Rose, meet and fall in love, or because together they uncover new meaning hidden in their lonely lives.

It's like another springtime, one you only notice if you're paying attention, and it signals not rebirth, but its opposite: evidence everywhere of nature's savagery. It's the season when baby squirrels scamper under car tires, pink fledglings drop from barn rafters, and golfers aim their drives at geese and their downy goslings. You're better off not noticing, but once you do, if you're a certain kind of person, you can't stop. It's enough to make frailer souls want to board up their windows and triple lock their doors to keep the terror at bay.

Tennessee Williams knew a similar frail soul,

The Glass Menagerie

's Laura; Mastrosimone's is Rose, and Joe Guzman's Cliff - a trucker passing through town who likes what he sees working behind the five-and-dime candy counter - is her Gentleman Caller.

Amanda Schoonover brings to this role the same childish whimsy that served her so well in Theater Exile's

Mr. Marmalade

, but backs it up with an adult's full-blown explosions of grief. Guzman, however, comes on too strong from the start. Sure, he's the kind of meat-and-potatoes guy who says things like "A dream is just a detour, skip it." But where director Neill Hartley ought to have nursed a sense of menace (girls - even strange ones - probably shouldn't bring home strange men) he instead turns Cliff into a plain old smart aleck, not half the desperate drifter he might have been.

Mastrosimone lays out threat-signifying clues, such as Cliff's drinking and pot-smoking, all through the script, but Hartley misses them, allowing Guzman to swagger when he ought to occasionally slink. The most egregious loss of tension comes during a monologue in which Guzman sits in a chair and talks, uninterrupted, for roughly 10 minutes (or maybe it only seemed that long). Putting aside the fact that it's nearly impossible to see the actor when he's seated in this way, what the staging does is eliminate any chance for the audience to connect with Cliff, and turn a crucial point in the narrative into a snooze.

Fortunately, Mastrosimone's script and Schoonover's performance transcend the production's blunders. It's enough to watch Rose, locked away in her garret, retreat to the springtime of popular imagination, knowing all the while what awaits her just outside the boards on her window and the locks on her door.

The Woolgatherer

Through Sunday at Walnut Street Theatre Studio 5, 825 Walnut St. Tickets: $16-$22. Information: 215-563-7500 or

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