8 Theatre Mirror Reviews - ""

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Sweet Bird of Youth"

Directed and Designed by Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.

Lighting Design by Al Fairbrother
Costume Design by Lynne Moulton, Concord Players
Sound Design by Joseph Zamparelli, Jr.
Stage Managers John Murtagh/Al Fairbrother

Chance Wayne......................................Raymond Schmoll
Princess Kosmonopolis, Alexandra Del Largo...Lis Adams
Boss Finley......................................................Jack Sweet
Aunt Nonnie...................................................Tillie Sweet
Heavenly Finley...........................................Nicole Jesson
Miss Lucy.................................................Lynne Moulton
Tom Jr. ......................................................Mark Cafazzo
Dan Hatcher...............................................Jackson Royal
George Skudder................................................Ian Bason
Heckler................................................Michael Makowski
Fly/Edna.......................................................Melanie May
Stuff...................................................................Ric Leno
Violet/Susan..............................................Susan Coppola


Tennessee Williams is having a revival and a re-examination this year, with a "lost" play up in New York, and performances of his plays popping up in local companies here. I find it impossible to review The Delvena Theatre's production of "Sweet Bird of Youth" without making some general observations on the major theatrical poet of our generation.

When the Boston Actors Ensemble did "Orpheus Descending" not once but twice, several of Williams' strengths and weaknesses surfaced. Both that play and "Sweet Bird of Youth" are profligate with roles, many momentary walk-ons, that demand sophisticated total characterization. Such roles were easy to fill when straight plays with large casts outnumbered musicals on the American stage; actors good enough to do it may think it not worth their time these days --- and directors may find it difficult to integrate many such characters into the fabric of a coherent play.

One other problem Williams presents is the existence of lyrical theatrical poetry side by side with glaring realism. Sometimes, it looks as though more than one play inhabits the same script. And here the Williams heritage as a maker of stage plays is in conflict with the image of his world that films of those plays have instilled in people's minds. There were compromises with popular taste and with the attention-spans of mass audiences that mean going back to the original scripts often results in surprising new experiences.

The Delvena Theatre's production of "Sweet Bird of Youth" has an excellent cast, and a terrible playing-space. Designer/Director Joseph Zamparelli, Jr., has audience and curtains on two of the four-sided Leland performance space, and his actors deliver long, introspective monologs directly to that audience in dimmed lights. The company also must wrestle with a complete scene-change from hotel room to hotel lobby and then back, all in the smallest of the BCA theatres. The conflict between poetry and realism is obvious.

At the center of this play is Raymond Schmoll's Chance Wayne, whose only public success was as a cowboy chorister in "Oklahoma!" but whose private triumphs were in bringing sexual satisfactions to the wealthy and famous --- who presumably paid well for it. At the play's opening he is satisfying a retired movie-star (Lis Adams) horrified by a cruel close-up in her comeback-film. He believes she will make him a young unknown film-star along with his home-town sweetheart --- even though he is twenty-nine and that "Sweet Bird of Youth" is, unfortunately, on the wing.

Everyone in this play is at that point when the wings of youth have become heavy with past experiences. That sweetheart --- "Heavenly" Finley, played by Nicole Jesson --- has been "split and gutted like a fish" because Chance's promiscuity gave her a "whore's disease", and her only aim now is to take her beauty into a convent. Mark Cafazzo as her vindictive brother takes cruel delight in explaining these facts to Chance.

As Heavenly's father, political Boss Finley, Jack Sweet demands that she stand at his side at political rallies in a virgin-white dress as he deplores the act of castrating a local uppity Nigger while condemning the threat of miscegenation making it possible. A heckler (Michael Makowski) willing to endure beatings to embarrass the Boss is evidence that the long "youth" of Southern racist politics is, itself, on the wane.

This Delvena production has the half-empty/half-full feel of a show still struggling into existence --- mirroring the difficulties of the script itself. Lis Adams describes her film-star's horror at finding herself not old, but no longer young, but the economic power that makes her a sexual "monster" is harder to see. Raymond Schmoll's Chance is all delusion --- to the point that he celebrates his apparent success by washing down a couple of "goof balls" with 100-proof vodka and speeding toward destruction. His eventual fate, however, remains obscure and it is unclear whether the text or the production is at fault.

Each role here, each speech, each scene is very well played, and turning long speeches into direct monologues solves some of the play's problems. It may take Director Zamparelli the entire run of the show, however, to hammer these excellent elements into a coherent whole.

Obviously, Williams is well worth a second look.

Love,
===Anon.


"Sweet Bird of Youth" (till 21 March)
THE DELVENA THEATRE
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-0320

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