review: vieux carré

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Vieux Carré

Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte
Featuring Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd

Wooster Group at Baryshnikov Arts Center Jerome Robbins Theater
450 West 37th Street
February 2, 2011 — March 13, 2011
production web site: http://tinyurl.com/4lz3s6k

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
February 26, 2011

  • “I guess I’m a yellow cab girl with limousine aspirations.”  (Jane)
  • “Writers are shameless spies.” (Writer)
  • “You are sensual. I am rapacious.” (Painter)
Kate Valk as Mrs. Wire. Photo as published in Los Angeles Times December 4, 2010.

Memory play, artists at work, indulgence in substances, subversive and subterranean sex lives, lurking vague illnesses, sordid life styles that attract and repel.  Tennessee Williams anyone?  Late life Williams comes to post modern, shards-of-experience, who-cares-about-linear-storytelling life in the hands of the Wooster Group, currently appearing at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Playbill notes suggest experts debate when Williams began work on this piece, but we do know that it premiered on Broadway, ran previews and performances from April 30-May 15, 1977 (see  http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=4001), and is a story of intersecting boarding house lives in the New Orleans French Quarter in some out-of-time time.  References are made to a typewriter that has been hocked, yet the Writer endlessly thrums on a disconnected computer keyboard loudly, all too consistently, with projected text high above the action appears  in shards and in rapidly spinning blather speeches too quickly passing to read.  The production appears to present Williams’ linearly-crafted play as a play about inspiration, life evolution, and creative output.  With sound design and projected text and fake phalluses and simulated oral sex. And it sometimes works.

Mrs. Vire (Kate Valk) runs a boarding house in which dwell our storytelling, story developing Writer (Ari Fliakos), a Photographer (Daniel Pettrow), Nursie (Kaneza Schaal), fragile Jane (Kate Valk again), and a range of other characters who come and go, tempting and tasting, easing and urging, all writing before and within video projections, on platforms.  We feel the characters at times who inspire our Writer.  Valk as Wire moves most in real time and space. The dance of video with characters on stage is masterful — pornographic movies morph into pornographic illusions (with actors on video overlaid with second shots of other actors behind curtains), and additional filmed excerpts of sequences perhaps to represent characters dreamed up by our Writer Fliakos.  Or not.

It’s a mess or an inspiration.  It represents the whorl of real life inspiring creation, and/or it represents word play and platform play and sex play.

Could I do without the keyboard played sometimes like a slap bass, sometimes like an accordion, and never ever like a writer’s tool?  Yes.  I’d had quite enough of this conceit in the Roundabout’s Glass Menagerie last year (see http://wp.me/pHkrs-jq).  This particular production twists that conceit slightly differently and annoys me in an entirely new way.  Think it, type it, play it, earn the tool, use it.

What we do know is that this is a late-life Williams play that feels like pieces of well-known other Williams works also set in New Orleans (A Streetcar Named Desire and a number of his one acts) or placed in the middle of people maneuvering for position in a family constellation (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) or amid dissipated characters who may or may not make their way out of their drug-induced hell (Night of the Iquana) or located in their far-fetched dreams for themself or others (Glass Menagerie).  And the Wooster Group in this production makes what it wants from the raw material with which it begins.  Have they found the core of this piece?  I have no idea.  Is this production a sensual delight?  Yes.

© Martha Wade Steketee (February 27, 2011)

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