By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Cody Estle
At Raven Theatre. Chicago
“I tell you, there’s so much loneliness in this house that you can hear it.” – Mrs Wire
Haunting drama about loneliness and the need to connect work effectively
Tennessee Williams began Vieux Carre in 1938 when he arrived in New Orleans and stayed in a run-down boarding house at 722 Toulouse Street in the city’s French Quarter. This autobiographical drama is a bookend to his The Glass Menagerie. It was completed and mounted on Broadway in 1977. It closed after only five performances. Critics thought it was a meandering memory play with little structure.
But director Cody Estle careful production, now at Raven Theatre with a fine cast of non-Equity talents. uses a terrific set designed by Ray Toler, that underscores the misery of the inhabitants in fine detail rendering the boarding house as another character.
Vieux Carre is a memory play narrated by The Writer (Ty Olwin), the Tennessee Williams character. He is a young writer from St.Louis who arrives in New Orleans in search of writing material. He has writer’s block since he has little to write about until his new life experiences give him material. His ongoing battle with survival as he becomes destitute affects his writing.
In the dilapidated boarding house, he meets an assortment of desperate and eccentric folks that become grist for his writing mill. The wacky dementia suffering and manipulative landlady, Mrs. Wire (in a terrific performance by JoAnn Montemurro) is controlling toward her guests. She is the landlady from hell whose manic depression renders he hot and cold toward her boarders.
Nightingale (Will Casey) is the predatory old queen who denies that he is dying from tuberculous. He constantly pines for The Writer. Nursie (Sandra Watson) is the elderly housekeeper who also looks after Mrs. Wire. June (Eliza Stroughton0 the the New Yorker and failed fashion designer whose terminal illness leads her to strange sexual adventures with the brute French Quarter bouncer, Tye (Joel Reistsma). The two have a sex induced love-hate yet sensual relationship. Lastly, the two psychological challenged ladies, Ms Carrie (Debra Rodkin) and Mary Maude (KristinCollins) who eat garbage to survive as they live in their own fantasy world of high society in New Orlans.
This crew of eccentrics fuel the drama and it gives The Writer material. Essen tally, Vieux Carre is a memory play and a slice-of-life kitchen sink drama that focuses on the daily routine of the folks. We witness their loneliness and their desperation to give meaning to their lives as well as their struggle to connect with each other. Vieux Carre becomes a character profile of eccentric characters.
The power of Williams’ lyrical dialogue with the emotionally deep performances universally throughout the cast give the show its hauntingly engaging essence. We feel the pain and the loneliness flows from all. Those shattered folks become empathetic and haunting.
Jo Ann Montemurro and Ty Olwin together with Will Casey were each outstanding. The eerie tone and the depth of despair that wreaks from this group becomes drama that works on stage. Vieux Carre is a treasure that gives us hints into Tennessee Williams’ life after The Glass Menagerie. The Raven Theatre production is worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 15, 2014
For more info checkout the Vieux Carre page at theatreinchicago.com
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, tickets $36, $15 for students, teachers, military with a $5 senior discount, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2w hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through June 28, 2104