I had the opportunity of seeing, “A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COUER” by TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, presented by LA FEMME THEATRE PRODUCTIONS, currently in production at THEATRE at ST. CLEMENTS, 46THST.(9TH-10THAVES) NYC. It is directed by Austin Pendleton and Stars Kristine Nielsen, Annette O’Toole, Jean Lichty, & Polly McKie.
In James Grissom’s riveting account of Tennessee Williams last few years, to which Mr. Grissom was uniquely privy, ”FOLLIES OF GOD”(Alfred A. Knopf-2015), at the beginning of Chapter 14 Williams is quoted writing in a letter: ”This NARRATIVE, what I call my fog, which I need to see rolling across my boards again, comes only to those who dream it into existence, who need it, who honor it. Any narrative that has found a home in my mental theater has been a literary orphan, and I gave it a home. One needs to be a suitable recipient of the narrative, the fog. I am no longer suitable to receive. Am I, to quote Paul Tillich, too proud to receive? Or have I debased the dreaming part of myself? Find the places where I once dreamed. Take young eyes and fear nothing.”
That wrenching paragraph of the esteemed multiple Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, poet, essayist, and addict of far too many substances to relate here, encapsulates the merits and shortcomings of this penultimate play from 1979 of William’s oeuvre. In this story we find four “women of the fog”, from whom the author ceaselessly sought inspiration. Among his greatest creations, or rather, manifestations of the thickest of fogs: Amanda, of “The Glass Menagerie,” Blanche, of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Alma, of “Summer and Smoke” or Maggie, from “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”. These women with their mists dwarf the presences of the four females who inhabit this portion of 1937 St. Louis near Creve Coeur: a haven where Bodey, rendered by the brilliant and voluble Kristine Nielsen, unequivocally states that this is the perfect place to enjoy her carefully crafted Southern Fried Chicken on such a lovely Sunday.
She, Bodey, dominates the apartment she rents to Dorothea, the much younger and appreciatively fetching Jean Lichty. Both in size and audibility, Ms. Nielsen’s, Bodey fills the relatively large stage at St. Clements and this play’s purposely garish set, beautifully designed by Harry Feiner to offend every conceivable taste, all the while matching his sensitive lighting. Their neighbor, Miss Gluck,(Polly McKie) grieving from the recent death of her mother and the fact that she can merely speak her native German (perfectly rendered according to my German speaking theater companion ) invades the space with her angst and agenda for some solace in this harsh world on a lovely day.
Dorothea, from the very beginning, while performing her endless exercises to keep her exceptionally trim figure all the more so, is focused on receiving a phone call from the man who is both her employer as principal of the school wherein she teaches civics, and the rake to whom she’s has eagerly and quite recently sacrificed her hymen in a night of non- auto erotica in an auto. The shameful news of this Depression era deflowering is not met with sympathy from Bodey, who has specific matchmaking designs on her roommate involving her unseen younger, yet unattractively described brother.
Into this motley trio of crossed purposed feminine agendas arrives Helena, (the formidable Annette O’Toole), who adds to the quests of the day a forceful character of dubious generosity of either spirit, or monetary funds. Her desire to seal the deal for Dorothea’s moving out of Bodey’s hideous environment to join forces with Helena in securing a new apartment to share closer to where they both teach, and where they have had rather different dealings with aforementioned rake of a principal from whom Dorothea is still awaiting a call.
What can one say about a secondary from one of America’s titans of poetic theater? Just that, I suppose. Worth the hearing? Most definitely. Mr. Pendleton’s hand is expert with texts of this sensitivity and curious caliber. These four female actors and their characters emerge from this particular fog clearly seen, and almost always heard in this space of unforgiving acoustics. Even a lesser work from such a genius as Williams, even at a time when he himself doubted that he still possessed such gifts, is more than worth the less than two hour inquiry. It’s now playing to Oct. 21stand you needn’t wait for a Sunday.
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