This was always going to be a hard sell as Vieux Carre is not Tennessee Williams’ finest work. Although it does have a few affecting scenes which remind you of the great playwright’s better pieces like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.
Set in a seedy low rent boarding house in the French Quarter of New Orleans, we are introduced to a menagerie of characters, all jostling for attention. The writer Mark Arends narrates, talking directly to the audience. Mrs Wire Frances Jeater runs the establishment where, too often the guests do not meet her standards.
Reminiscent of Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City, the problem is that the writing seems at odds with both the direction and the performances. Maupin’s characters evolve but here Williams simply allows them to go through the motions for almost three hours. Jane (Ruth Gibson) and Tye (Nathan Nolan) hold the audiences’ attention because for all their flaws, there is something enigmatic about them. They are the play’s Maggie and Brick. Gibson and Nolan avoid using broad strokes in their performances which are both beautifully nuanced.
Jeater though seems to be in a different play entirely with her over the top but likeable turn. Robert Demeger has some great lines as the predatory guest, Nightingale, but he overacts to such an extent that all emotion is lost.
Sarah Williamson’s set design is ambitious but works a treat, focusing on every nook and cranny of the guesthouse in all of its dark glory. Roger Haines has a tough job directing this piece because the repression that you normally associate with Williams’ work is not evident here. Restraint is replaced by in your face antics; often creating shock impact for the sake of it.
This is a very direct play, nothing is hinted at – it is pointed out and highlighted to such an extent that you are left feeling spoon-fed. It is not all Haines’ fault. The writing does not really have enough covert themes or ideas as it was written in 1977 when the writer was able to express himself more freely.
The slightly muted response from the audience on the night I attended suggest that this approach is not as admired as the slow Southern-style ‘pot boiler’ which is Tennessee Williams.
- Glenn Meads