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Tennesse Williams’ “Vieux Carré” at Raven Theatre, Wry Humor and Emotions Collide

vieuxcarree1The mind of a writer is like an old boarding house; places where whispers of life are preserved and the people they encounter influence their character.  Vieux Carré, or ‘Old Square,’ is Tennessee Williams’ biographical play vis-à-vis the education of an artist suffering with loneliness and despair. Raven’s resident director, Cody Estle dusts the cow webs and revives the play, giving Williams a voice that resonates with emotion and wry humor.

Estle transports the stage and audience to the 1930s and the View Carré, the name of the old French Quarter in New Orleans where cheap rents and air of age attracted a bohemian and artistic community.  Set in a dilapidated boarding house, the rooms hold the memories solidly reproduced on Raven Theatre’s stage. The boarding house is the place where your can buy “a meal for a quarter in the Quarter.”  Estle’s inspiration to produce Williams’ play is in part to his connection to the main character, The Writer.   He relates to Williams because the “writer moving to a new and unfamiliar city with the dream of making art . . . reminds me of my arrival in Chicago from my small town in Ohio . . .”

The set design, by Ray Toler, seeps the stage with the sultry and grimy feel of the day.  Estle effectively evokes Williams’ memories and inexperience as a writer.  The Writer (Ty Olwin) is an innocent aspiring writer from St. Louis struggling with poverty, lonesomeness, homosexuality, and a cataract.  With the feel of warm molasses, the first half sets each character and individual struggle within and outside the walls of the house.  Mrs. Wire (JoAnn Montemurro), the boarding house owner, is a comically deranged woman who suffers from her own memories and demands an order of morality from her tenants that she herself does not possess.  Nursie (Sandra Watson) the housekeeper is Mrs. Wire’s shadow and sane constancy, tidying the muddle in the house.  Jane (Eliza Stoughton), a properly brought up young woman, grasps for love, desire, and normalcy in the abnormal before she is consumed by a secret illness.  Tye (Joel Reitsman) is Jane’s lover and a shady, vulgar, controlling stripper in one of the local seedy joints.  Nightingale (Will Casey) is a dying Southern gent, tubercular homosexual painter who tries to teach The Writer about love, surviving loneliness, and compassion.

Vieux Carré is a collection of portraits painted with a brush of humor, irony, pain, and beauty of emotional conflict splendidly captured in this production.  As The Writer says, “Writers are shameless spies” who see and feel, and pay dearly for their knowledge.  Williams powerfully conveys that The Writer must first live before he can sit down and write.

Vieux Carré by Tennessee Williams, Directed by Cody Estle at the Raven Theatre through June 28, 2014.  Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3:00 p.m. – Tickets $36; $15 students, teachers and military personnel; $5 discount for seniors.  For tickets: www.raventheatre.com or 773-338-2177.


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