Review: CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL at Tennessee Williams Threatre Company

Production runs now through September 24th

By: Sep. 23, 2022
Review: CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL at Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
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Review: CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL at Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
Matthew Boese and Lauren Wells as the Fitzgeralds.
Photo by James Kelley

Tennessee Williams Theatre Company does it again with the Williams rarity, CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL.

Known as the last produced Williams play on Broadway during his lifetime, CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL was commercially panned by critics, which would ultimately push the playwright further down a path of dejection and substance abuse. However, the imaginative powers of Director Augustin J. Correro takes Williams' script and turns it into a physical and visual triumph.

CLOTHES focuses on the turbulent relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, who are infamous as a fragmented couple. The story unfolds over the course of a day where Scott visits Zelda at the Highland Mental Hospital in Ashville, NC, where she has been committed. As a memory play, like THE GLASS MENAGERIE, the characters examine the past through memory, fantasy, ghosts that still haunt them, and the ghosts they've become.

With Williams' lesser-known plays, TWTC shines in theatrical execution. They have a skill and energy that genuinely uplifts New Orleans theatre. And in the tiny space of the Lower Depths theatre, the fine work of Correro and his company cannot be praised enough. The detailed attention and emotional capacity they put forth to this ghost story that melodramatizes the lives of Zelda and Scott is enrapturing.

One of the most engaging parts of the play is the relationship between Scott and Zelda. Obscured by the potency around the legends that accrued from their names, these public, tumultuous and booze-soaked lives were a playground for Williams, who used it as an outlet for his relationship with his sister Rose.

Review: CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL at Tennessee Williams Threatre Company
Lauren Wells as Zelda Fitzgerald. Photo by James Kelley

TWTC newcomer Lauren Wells spares nothing in capturing the full-blooded vitality of Zelda. She has a zest for creating a woman who is often angry, endearing, seductive, and all in one scene. And when she is in the moment, she is fully committed. Certainly, a new face to watch in future TWTC productions.

Matthew Boese plays a worthy adversary as her husband, Scott. He portrays an unsympathetic figure who desperately needs Zelda while also being at odds with her. Each character struggles with their own distress and failures, leading to several quarrels, such as using Zelda's life for his novels while also preventing her from pursuing a writing career. But simultaneously, there are moments of longing that seem to signal their relationship was truly based deep in love.

But the quarrels lead Zelda into the arms of a French aviator. In his New Orleans debut, Ben Dougherty plays a triple threat in the roles of the aviator Edouard, Ernest Hemingway and an intern at the asylum. Dougherty offers strong, sympathetic support as Zelda's lover, who engages in affairs with him on the beach on the French Riviera, while Scott is absorbed in his writer's regimen. When Dougherty plays as Hemingway, we see his true acting scope, going toe-to-toe with his literary rival (and perhaps something more) in Scott.

Kyle Daigrepont and Mary Langley round out the cast, who captured the audience with their various changing characters, whether nuns or biting socialites.

Adding to the acting powerhouses is the tech, which created haunting visuals for this ghost story. Set design by Caige Hirsch maximized the performance area for a drama that alternates between asylum and a past remembered. The gates of the asylum were perfectly foreboding as their depths belied what was truly beyond them. And separation and intimacy were present during the dance moments between Wells and Dougherty.

Adding to the striking visual effect is costume designs by Baylee Robertson for the habits worn by the nuns, and the impeccable lighting design by Diane K. Baas, adding to the ominous feel. The cherry on top is, without a doubt, Nick Shackleford's sound design.

CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL is now running through September 24.


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