Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur
Printroom at the Coronet Autumn 2016
Here's a happy novelty – a 'lost' work that really does deserve to be found.
Tennessee Williams's play, which blends a sympathetic drama of little people's little lives with some gentle and respectful comedy, actually had a successful Off-Broadway run in 1979, but for some reason has rarely been revived since, and Michael Oakley's new production is a very welcome reminder that Williams was often at his best when at his quietest.
Schoolteacher Dottie shares a modest flat with office worker Bodey, who has matchmaker ambitions for her roommate and her never-seen brother Buddy.
But Dottie has begun an affair with her school principal and has ambitions of rising in local society, plans supported by Helena, a fellow teacher and snob, who wants Dottie to join her in (and help defray the expenses of) a more expensive apartment in a better part of town.
As Bodey prepares for a picnic at the local downmarket park of the title, Dottie dreams of romance and Helena makes no attempt to disguise her Blanche Dubois-like horror at the life she insists she's rescuing Dottie from.
There are clearly echoes of A Streetcar Named Desire here, in the supposedly higher-class intruder not recognizing the values of a 'cruder' world. And in fact this 1979 play is based on an unproduced screenplay Williams first wrote soon after Streetcar.
(Sensing his creative powers failing, Williams turned frequently in his late years to reworking earlier material, and there are hints of some of his gentler short stories from the 1940s here as well.)
The basic material could have been handled any number of ways but director Michael Oakley wisely recognises that the key to the play's power lies in its love for all the characters, so that both the drama and the comedy always recognise and respect their humanity and dignity.
Each of the women – along with a fourth, a lonely and needy neighbour – takes a turn being ridiculous or suffering a serious disappointment, and the play and production present both without malice or condescension.
Debbie Chazen lets us see how uncultured Bodey is and how unsubtle in her matchmaking, but she also makes clear that the woman is no fool and that her salt-of-the-earth virtues are not to be disdained.
With her constant figure-sustaining exercises and her romantic fantasies Dottie could easily be played for cruel comedy or easy pity, but Laura Rogers walks the delicate line between the two and thus reduces both to softer and kinder levels.
If never quite as complex as the Blanche Dubois she resembles, Helena is no simple villain, and while one might have wished actress Hermione Gulliford had found more hints of the woman's own desperation and self-delusion, she generously serves the play by not stealing focus from the others, as does Julia Watson in the largely silent role of the neighbour.
In his lifetime Tennessee Williams had the undeserved reputation of being a writer of extreme and sensational drama, when he was really a poet defined by his sympathy for the lost and lonely.
One of his gentlest plays, A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur, is also one of his most unstrainedly entertaining, and in a lot of ways one of his most characteristic.
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Review - A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur - Print Room at Coronet Theatre 2016