A line from the musical West Side Story, “Stick to your own kind!” comes to mind when thinking about A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, one of the lesser known works by Tennessee Williams. There’s a definitive Williams footprint in the narrative, with Dorothea (Laura Rogers) not far removed from Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, though Dorothea seems never to have had a family fortune to speak of in the first place. Rogers’ performance, although compelling, is somewhat let down by an accent that sounded more Middlesbrough than Missouri. Ultimately, though, it’s social class that proves to be the determining factor in who ends up living with whom.
‘Lovely’ being the operative word, the plot is not as forceful and heavy as some of Williams’ better-known plays, and there’s no reason why, as I found to my surprise, that this play couldn’t be classed in our day as a period comedy. A number of personality traits are observed in what comes across as a study of human behaviour. Bodey (a hugely likeable Debbie Chazen) is more of a traditionalist than Dorothea, while Helena (Hermione Gulliford) is ambitious and hungry for success in life. Sophie Gluck (Julia Watson) is comparatively one-dimensional: neither the actor’s nor the director’s fault, it is simply the way in which the character is written.
As has been explored in many plays, the question crops up as to whether to tell the whole truth at all times even if it would cause (debatably) unnecessary pain. I liked the way in which this was considered in this play – after all, withholding information is not, technically speaking, the same as telling a lie. The idea, explored through Helena, that moving upwards and onwards (or even trying to) corrupts a person, is probably outdated, or at least oversimplified. The same, really, goes for Bodey’s stay-home- and-stay-safe outlook, and it is Dorothea who is caught between two widely different worlds.
The set goes well with the setting of the 1930s – there’s no radical re-imaginings for a new generation going on here. I’m not sure whether the stifling conditions in the theatre were deliberate – the ambient outdoor temperature was significantly lower – but the temperature in the room went well with the hot sun of St Louis in the summertime. This is also one of those plays entirely set in an apartment, and nowhere else, leaving other off-stage characters merely described as opposed to being acted out through an ensemble.
However, the single setting is not entirely problem-free. Characters are supposed to be unable to hear certain other characters in places, though the proximity of the characters on stage makes this absurd. There’s much to be enjoyed, though, in the various mind games. It becomes clear that each character has their own agenda going on, though the overriding theme is ‘crève coeur’, the French for ‘heartbreak’. And, goodness me, these characters are certainly heartbroken in one way or another.
It did feel a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, with moments of extreme infuriation combined with moments of care and tenderness. A compelling production, and an excellent choice of play to revive on the London stage.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s Sunday morning in early June, 1930s St Louis. In a sweltering apartment, as Dorothea completes her rigorous daily exercise regime, Bodey is in the kitchen, frying chicken for a picnic at Creve Coeur Lake. Upstairs neighbour Mrs Gluck has depression so bad she can’t even make coffee, and now Dorothea’s spinster colleague Helena arrives with the news that she’s found a lovely new apartment for them to share. But Dorothea’s mind is elsewhere, she is hoping for a call from the man of her dreams…
Rarely seen in the UK, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur bears all the hallmarks of a classic Tennessee Williams play
The Print Room at the Coronet
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Performance dates and times
A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur
12th September – 7th October 2016
Press night: 15th September 2016 7:30pm