By Tennessee Williams
Directed by David Cromer
At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Strong emotionally wrenching performances fuel lavish production of the 1959 Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth
Director David Cromer captures the angst, the emotional struggle, and the deep seated self loathing of the aging beauties in his lavish and deep rendition of the 1959 Tennessee Williams modest hit (375 performances on Broadway) – Sweet Bird of Youth. Outstanding performances from Diane Lane, as the aging former beauty film star Alexandra DeLago aka ‘The Princess Kosmonopolis and Finn Wittrock as the aging gigolo and drifter Chance Wayne make this show sizzle. Both are aging and lamenting their fading youth. These two characters overwhelm us with their sensuality, their angst, and their self-loathing. The lavishly extreme white set (design by James Schuette) and the ever present sea and seagull sounds (Josh Schmdt) gives the piece a distinct Old Southern feel that underscores the slow paced life style where youth and beauty seem elusive.
Featuring Tennessee Williams lyrical and lurid language, Sweet Bird of Youth still resonates today as people try face lifts, hair coloring, botax and dieting in a vain attempt to stay young. Sweet Bird deals with the psychological effects of aging as we meet Chance who, age 29, has lost his boyish looks to hard drink and drugs. You can hardly see aging in the chiseled handsome Finn Wittlock yet his strong acting depicts a man already lamenting his fleeting beauty resulting in fewer opportunities for success. Chance is traveling with the former movie star, Alexandra DeLago, traveling as The Princess Kosmonopolis, is running from a disastrous opening of her come-back film. The two are drinking, smoking hash, popping pills and drinking vodka in between vigorous sex episodes. Wittrock and Lane offer several enticing scenes early on in the bedroom.
Chance has driven the Princess to St. Cloud, Florida, his home town as he desperately tries to reconnect with his believed soul-mate, Heavenly Finley (Kristina Johnson). Her father, a political boss like Huey Long, ran Chance out of town a number of years ago. Tom Boss Finley (John Judd) parades Heavenly around in a white dress symbolizing her purity. Chance is warned to leave St. Cloud before Boss has him punished for his indiscretion with Heavenly years ago.
The plots deals with not only aging and lost youth but the small town narrow-mindedness and racial tensions in the late 50′s Deep South. This explosive drama aptly demonstrates how lost innocence is impossible to resurrect. We see the devastation from shame and regrets that never seem to go away. The performances, especially by Finn Wittrock and Diane Lane were complete truthful and deeply internalized. John Judd, as Boss Finley was charismatically evil. The supporting cast offered several fine turns, especially by Colm O’ Reilly as George Scudder and Jennifer Engstrom as Miss Lucy.
Sweet Bird of Youth features Williams’ lyrical language and deep sense of internal pain that often become a part of his characters. Loss of beauty and feelings of unworthiness are themes Williams like to explore. He also most effectively uses direct address toward the audience to hammer home comments. The three hour, two intermission drama flows nicely into a breezy evening of theatre.
Date Reviewed: September 26, 2012
For more info checkout the Sweet Bird of Youth page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $27-$89, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm , Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7;30 pm, running time is 3 hours with 2 intermissions, through October 28, 2012