Review: The Wooster Group's Version of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carr

New York's greatest avant-garde troupe takes on a forgotten classic.

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  • Photograph: Franck Beloncle

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Photograph: Franck Beloncle

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Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Chasing meaning through a Wooster Group show can feel like running through a nightmare. The company's productions retreat behind endless technological veils, eluding us whenever we near some concrete undersanding. In a customarily disquieting, predictably thrilling work, The Wooster Group's Version of Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carr, the playwright himself is the infinitely pursued—and not just because of Elizabeth LeCompte's deconstructionist interventions.

Williams worked nearly his whole career long on Vieux Carr, laminating memories from a stint in a New Orleans boardinghouse with the painful insights of his advancing age. The Woosters' aesthetic is typically freezing cold (a now-familiar scrum of televisions, wires and multivalent sound), but drugged by the play's obsessively sensuous temperament, their ironic iciness becomes the clamminess of fever. The mise en scne is essentially a Boschian orgy: Ari Fliakos is Williams-avatar the Writer, live-edited into pornographic films as he dreams of a sexual awakening and surrounded by eccentrics in varying degrees of decay. Scott Shepherd distinguishes between his two characters (a tubercular artist and a heroin-addled bouncer) by swapping rubber phalluses, and Kate Valk plays both a sensitive East Coast transplant and a terrifying landlady who shrieks like a Weird Sister after too many bourbons. LeCompte elides some characters (one poignant story line is only barely glimpsed in the technical miasma), and something of the original's sadness is sacrificed to the Woosters' arch amusement. Also, I could not love a late development, in which the Writer begins to dictate other characters' staging—but that was only because after so long in their discomfiting dream, I hated to wake to anything that tasted of the literally true.

Baryshnikov Arts Center (see Off Broadway). By Tennessee Williams. Dir. Elizabeth LeCompte. With Ari Fliakos, Scott Shepherd, Kate Valk. 2hrs. No intermission.

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