Running the gamut

Vieux Carré

By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Dennis Smith
The Fourth Unity
Bank Street Theatre
155 Bank Street (353-3837)
Equity showcase (closes April 23)
Review by Sheila Mart

Vieux Carré is probably one of Tennessee Williams's most emotionally charged and comprehensive plays - running the gamut from intense sadness to ironic humor - and as a result is intensely human. It was written at a time (1977) when the spectrum of human relationships (homosexual and heterosexual) had never been fully explored theatrically - many facets were considered taboo and were either pushed under the rug or expressed euphemistically. In other words, this play was way ahead of its time.

This piece is not so much a play with a storyline; it is more of a peek into the lives of the desperate tenants who inhabit the disreputable boarding house in the French Quarter of New Orleans circa 1938-9. The Writer (Moe Bertran) periodically narrates and comments on all kinds of sexual activities happening among the tenants, some of which involve him personally. This character is evidently an autobiographical portrait of Williams, possibly written as a cathartic experience. The other inhabitants of this setting certainly comprise a pathetic cross-section: a couple of off-the-wall old ladies, Mary Maude (Lynn Battaglia) and Miss Carrie (Lynette Sheldon), who would be considered as having Alzheimer's in today's society; then there's the overtly feminine (but not quite a whore) Jane Sparks (Erica Veit), who in her ongoing affair with Tye McCool (Ivan Davila) deludes herself into believing that they are having a real love affair. Nightingale (Tony Hamilton) is a poor lonely soul (as are all of these characters) who refuses to admit that he has terminal and untreatable (at that time) TB. So this play, an exposé of human frailties punctuated with humor, involves the audience, despite the predictable inevitability of these characters' lives.

Director Dennis Smith produced an effective and seamless melding of the characters' relationships with each other, which had the desired emotional effect.

The acting (except for Ivan Davila, who was technically too much on one level) was first-rate. Courtenay A. Wendell (Mrs. Wire), although devastating in her performance impact, also needed more shading from her main level. There were a few lapses of Southern accent across the board, which could be corrected. In addition to the aforementioned, Gisele Richardson, Jeff Farkash, and Matthew Gorrek all pulled off convincing performances. Four of the cast played double roles.

Natalya Vidokle's set design was, given the available space, absolutely superb - it conveyed the restrictiveness of a boarding house most authentically.

Christien Methot's lighting was at times too moody - after all, it is necessary for the audience to see the actors. Ann Chandler costumed the characters as effectively as the period allowed.

The Fourth Unity seems to be a cohesive group worth following.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart