A lesser-known Tennessee Williams drama returns via the Pearl Theatre Company.
Wed Jun 3 2009
Photographs: Gregory Costanzo
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
The 1970s weren’t kind to Tennessee Williams. As his plays became bleaker, more autobiographical and less structurally sound, critics and audiences yawned. But the Pearl Theatre Company demonstrates that gems like Vieux Carr, which lasted only 17 performances on Broadway in 1977, contain a lyrical luster—especially in Austin Pendleton’s affecting and engaging revival.
Set in 1938--39 in New Orleans’s French Quarter (or, Vieux Carr), this poetic character study revolves around the downtrodden denizens who’ve ended up in the decaying boardinghouse of Mrs. Wire, played with battle-ax precision by Carol Schultz. Williams briefly lived a life not unlike that of his young protagonist, known as the Writer (Sean McNall), amid a circle of vulnerable, lonely, obsessive, proud users and dreamers who were losing their physical and emotional battles with life. The tuberculosis-stricken Nightingale, an aging gay painter who seduces the Writer, comes vibrantly alive in George Morfogen’s gentle, humorous depiction, as do Mary Maude and Miss Carrie (Beth Dixon and Pamela Payton-Wright), elderly women reduced to sifting through garbage for meals.
Quietly imploding Jane (Rachel Botchan), caught in a tumultuous tangle with the brutish Tye (Joseph Collins), never fully materializes, in part because Botchan’s performance is too dainty for the hard-living designer. Even McNall, who brings a wistfulness to the Writer, tends to internalize his character. Despite bits of awkward staging (sending the actors through the audience for exits and entrances), Pendleton and his cast find the heartbreak in Williams’s “shadowy occupants.” They just don’t always bring them to light.—Diane Snyder