Thursday, 31 January 2002

Sweet Bird of Youth, MTC, Jan 31, 2002

By Tennessee Williams  
Melbourne Theatre Company  at Playhouse until February
Reviewer: Kate Herbert Jan 31, 2002

In Tennessee Williams 1959 play Sweet Bird of Youth, names are like character descriptions.Chance  is a gigolo, The Princess is a faded movie star, Boss  is an autocratic racist and the Southern belle is Heavenly. 

This production boasts fine acting from Guy Pierce, Wendy Hughes and John Stanton  and tasteful and unobtrusive direction by Kate Cherry.

The play is not Williams' best. It does not rouse in us the depth of passions of Streetcar Named Desire (1947) or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (1955). It does feature Williams sniping, witty, camp Southern dialogue and his  familiar theme: decline.

Youth and beauty fade from Chance (Pierce) and del Lago. (Hughes) Fertility is wrenched from the childlike Heavenly (Phillips). In this fetid, steamy Southern town, bigotry and racism thrive despite anti-segregation laws.

Chance travels to St Cloud, his home-town, with del Lago. They reveal their lives of quiet desperation like a slow strip tease. In his vanity, Chance expects to be admired for his travel companion, her Cadillac and his lies about a movie career. Instead, he is greeted with loathing, violence and a legacy of disease from his last visit.

Pierce plays the young Adonis with a fine edge of impending doom. His is a captivating, eccentric beauty perfect for this immature, romantic, conceited man facing his demons.

Hughes is at her best here as the gravel-voiced, aging lush who has lost her looks, her pride and, she believes, her career.

The two cling to each other in their egocentric worlds, ignorant of the pain and changing fortunes of the other. They are alienated, afraid and determined to hold onto their deteriorating beauty.

As Boss Finlay, Stanton is commanding and convincing. The character is compellingly cruel, gruff and domineering. Belinda McClory  as Miss Lucy is cheeky. Matthew Dytynski  as Tom Junior is suitably thuggish. Phillips is luminously shattered as Heavenly and Peter Houghton  adds detail to the tiny role of Bud.

Paul Grabowsky's  sultry jazz evocatively underscores the mood as does the asymmetrical grandeur of Tony Tripp's  set. Rory Dempster's lighting is simple and occasionally dramatic.

Scene changes are laborious and the pace of the play is a little sluggish initially but this is a good production.

 By Kate Herbert

By Kate Herbert

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