BWW Review: VIEUX CARRE at Tennessee Williams Theatre Company
The reflection of beginnings and endings is prominent in the newest production by the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company with Tennessee Williams' VIEUX CARRE, now running through August 25 at the Marigny Opera House.
Directed by Beau Bratcher, VIEUX CARRE is an excellent selection for opening TWTC's fourth season during New Orleans' tricentennial. Like "The Glass Menagerie," VIEUX CARRE is a memory play, but there is no Tom Wingfield, just a man who is called the Writer, and the story takes us where the playwright first encountered the bohemian lifestyle. Also, with it being the New Orleans tricentennial, it is a fitting story that lets Williams reflect on his beloved city, while our own love for Nola is on high.
The setting takes place in a rundown boarding house in the 1930's New Orleans' French Quarter. The house is empty now, according to The Writer (Jake Bartush) at the start of the play, but memory is funny that way for the stage is full of people he once knew, frozen in time as he reflects on when he lived there.
Representing the eponymous playwright's alter ego, the unnamed Writer finds inspiration for his work from his fellow boarders, a diverse lot who are carefully watched over by their eccentric, mentally fragile landlady Mrs. Wire (Tracey E Collins), who's made her bed in the hallway to watch for people coming and going late at night. While things happen to the Writer - including coming to terms with his homosexuality - the Writer's interest (and thus our own) lies mostly in what he observes in the similarly luckless.
While VIEUX CARRE only lived on Broadway for a handful of performances, these snapshots of life in a moldering old house taken by someone who is just passing through is still worth a visit. Williams has a natural talent for creating intriguing characters, which are brilliantly brought to life by this ensemble cast.
As Mrs. Wife, Collins brings forth the quintessential image of a Southern grandmother. While serving a bowl of gumbo along with a sharp tongue, we see the underlying urge to comfort her wayward miscreants, particularly the Writer. However, it all comes at the cost of following life by her rules, especially if it helps her earn a quick buck.
As the middle-aged painter Nightingale, Kyle Daigrepont is outstanding. Refusing to believe he has nothing more than a case of the flu, we see an elegant, enigmatic figure the minute he brings in his next nightly conquest. With a confident poise, Daigrepont hides the truth of his needs and masks his desire to assuage loneliness in the guise of sexual hunger even as he is crumbling.
There is no shortage of tragic figures in the boarding house that Williams built. As the ailing society girl Jane, Megan Whittle brings forth an emotionally delicate woman trapped in her love for the drug-addicted strip club bouncer Tye (Levi Hood). While Jane is forthcoming with the things she wants and deserves, her reliance on Tye prevents her from achieving true happiness. While delicate, her strength lies in her kindness to others.
Hood's portrayal of the freeloader Tye is passionate and at times harsh and truthful. Jane serves as only one purpose for him, and their volatile relationship is painful to watch in its brutality.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is LaKesha Glover as Nursie, Mrs. Wire's long-suffering employee, and Janet Shea and Adella Gautier, who play a pair of impoverished old ladies reduced to scavenging for their supper. Each performance by these women is as endearing as they are funny.
Then there is the Writer himself, recounting his past life through older eyes. As he narrates, he already knows how this story ends, though the question remains if he remembers things as they indeed happened. While he is in the center of it all, Bartush remains passive of the Writer's own struggles, allowing the focus to fall on the much stronger personalities who fuel the Writer's creative spark. Bartush plays the Writer with a fondness for the ghosts who have never left him, and there is almost a childlike eagerness to revisit them.
Bratcher's direction takes this play without a real plot and works with the relaxed structure to his advantage, playing up the wit and humor in Williams writing and creating real, vivid characters who he once knew. This production of Williams' VIEUX CARRE, written during the sad twilight of his years, is a look back into the predawn of his creative career and as an emergence of an influential voice in theatre.
You will want to stay at VIEUX CARRE.