Play: Vieux Carre
Group: Muddy Waters Theatre
Venue: Theatre at St. John’s, 5000 Washington at Kingshighway
Dates: February 22,23,24,29, March 1
Tickets: $15 and $18; contact 314-534-1111, 314-540-7341 or www.metrotix.com
Story: A young writer moves from St. Louis to New Orleans in 1938, taking up residence in the French Quarter ("Vieux Carre") district in the hopes of landing a writing job with the federal WPA program. The boarding house where he rooms at the historic 722 Toulouse Street is populated with a sad and sorry collection of losers, outcasts and misfits whose hellish existence is constantly censored and tested by a mean-spirited and narrow-minded landlady. The writer, who refers to people of his ilk as "shameless spies," floats emotionally in this quagmire where "there is so much loneliness in this house that you can hear it."
Highlights: Muddy Waters Theatre dedicates each year to studying the works of one playwright, and this season is offering a trio of plays by Tennessee Williams, from the famous (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) to the familiar (Night of the Iguana) to the somewhat obscure, the present offering of Vieux Carre, written in 1977. For anyone who enjoys the lyrical quality of Williams’ writing, however, this is a treat to be savored and appreciated.
Director Annamarie Pileggi has crafted a beautifully modulated production that radiantly underscores the rapture and poetry of Williams’ craft. The twin-tiered set designed by Sean Savoie, an amalgam of plain beds and plainer furniture, expertly captures the suffocation and depression of the boarding house’s inhabitants, and Savoie provides the stifling lighting as well. Bonnie Kruger’s costumes convey the shabby, faux grandeur of the residents, and the plaintive piano chords provided by Elizabeth Birkenmeier suitably accentuate the proceedings.
Other Info: Pileggi’s cast provides a number of prime performance nuggets that give this production a saucy and stylish flavor. Kevin Beyer delivers a sparkling portrayal of an aging gay painter increasingly ravaged by disease, and Julie Layton is a genteel fashion illustrator whose unhappiness in her relationship with a loutish stud becomes even more hopeless with some revelatory news. Jared Sanz-Agero portrays her insensitive lover in a marvelous turn that shows the man’s capacity for cruelty as well as basic physical love, and Peggy Billo wonderfully etches the complexities that underlie the landlady’s horrific personality.
Sally Eaton and Karen Wood are a pair of doddering and impoverished older ladies (although the youthful Wood can’t carry off the illusion of age), Luke Lindberg is thoughtful and deliberate as the naïve young writer (echoing his performance in another Williams production earlier this year), and Lynelle White does well as the landlady’s frenzied housekeeper. Charlie Heuvelman portrays a partying photographer in a brief scene and Joshua Thomas shines in a small bit as a romantic musician with a yen for the road.
It’s interesting to see how Williams etches the characters differently, more graphically and therefore with less subtly, when he was writing in the more permissive ‘70s as contrasted with earlier in his career. If you love the work of Tennessee Williams, you owe it to yourself to check out this excellent production of a seldom scene play.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.