Saturday, 19 January 2013

Vieux Carré, Jan 17, 2013 **1/2

By Tennessee Williams
Itch Productions, Midsumma Festival
45downstairs, until Feb 3, 2013 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: **1/2
Review published in Herald Sun on Wed Jan 23, 2013. KH

Vieux Carré is not one of Tennessee Williams’ major works, although its themes, characters, poetic language and tone forecast and resonate with his renowned, later works.

Williams began Vieux Carré in 1938 while living in the Old French Quarter of New Orleans in his 20s, but it was not finished or staged until 1977 when it closed after five Broadway performances.

The decadence, deprivation, rhythm and heat of New Orleans are already pervasive in this early, autobiographical work and we can almost hear Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski outside the windows.

It is set in a dilapidated, historic boarding house run by a demented, manipulative landlady, Mrs. Wire (Kelly Nash), and populated by misfits, drunks, the sick and dying.
The reticent, unnamed Writer (Thomas Blackburne), a version of the younger Williams, narrates the play, eavesdropping on residents and tapping out their stories on his old Remington typewriter.

The script resembles a collection of short stories, a series of vignettes and character sketches interwoven to create a tapestry of scenes.

It does not possess the dramatic shape and intense dramatic tension of later Williams’ dramas, so its theatricality relies on quirky characters, their poetic, self-absorbed musings and catastrophic life choices.

Alice Bishop’s direction captures the grim strangeness of the boarding house, but her production lacks dynamic range, the pace is unvaried, scene changes are laboured, and the acting and Southern accents are uneven.

There are a few strong performances: Nash inhabits the bullying, obsessive Mrs. Wire with passion and mania, providing the most moving moment when her sanity finally abandons her.

Samantha Murray is cool and compelling as Jane, the upmarket New York designer, now a fallen woman with a dire secret, and Des Fleming is convincing as Tye, her rough, petty crim boyfriend with the ambiguous sexuality.

Stephen Whittaker cleverly balances dignity and despair as the fearful, tubercular, homosexual painter, Nightingale.

The Writer is the primary filter for the story, but Blackburne looks uncomfortable in the role and, in trying to play diffidence, his character is persistently restrained and his vocal inflections become flat and repetitive.

Bob McGowan’s sultry, live guitar evokes the Jazz clubs and streets of New Orleans.

Vieux Carré echoes Williams’ later greatness, but the script and this production miss the mark on several fronts.

By Kate Herbert

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