Just hours after Edward Bond’s Shaw Festival début in a play that overflows with laughs and insightful comments about the human experience, Tennessee Williams’ minor masterpiece—on the same stage—took flight, demonstrating yet again just what a master of the delicate subjects of hope, romance, loss and despair the playwright was and—given the right cast and director—still is in 2014.
Barely an hour in length, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur hits on virtually every human emotion and—unlike Bond’s more uneven work—manages to artfully balance comedy and tragedy in a way that few others have ever achieved.
Having Blair Williams in the director’s chair assures one and all that there will be “comedy tonight”; now his ability to successfully mine the darker side of life between many moments of physical farce and cutting innuendos whets the appetite for even more challenging assignments in the years to come.
Cameron Porteus’ feast of gaudy (in the eye of the beholder, of course): furniture, wall and floor coverings and detail-rich properties—where only the cheque book seemed a tad too modern—that comprise the 1930s St. Louis apartment “without view” (OK, there is a pigeon lurking nearby) is at one with the inhabitants.
Ruling the roost is first-generation German-American, Bodey (Kate Hennig delivers her rapid-fire lines with clarity, precision and wonderful subtext that ideally belies her “simple” looks), who wants only the best for her roommate—especially if that includes a trip to the altar with her beer-loving, cheap-cigar smoking twin brother, Buddy—largely unseen save and except for a few wails during a forgotten phone call, the love-struck man, nonetheless, becomes a vital character in the drama.
None better than Deborah Hay takes on and brilliantly conquers the challenging role of Dorothea, the Civics teacher who has fallen head over heels for the principal of her school. One can only wish to have been a fly on the wall as Hay and Williams worked out their strategy for the start-of-day exercises (100 each of various manoeuvres) which had the opening morning crowd in stitches from the first vigorous gyration right through to the, er, climax when the head-between-crotch set—suddenly interrupted by a decidedly third party—hit its spectacular payoff. Yet, like Williams, Hay also plumbed the depths of love suddenly found and just as quickly lost; the flush of “life goes on” anguish that burned through her cheeks was silently unforgettable as the curtain fell.
The two remaining characters were fully formed by the playwright even in the relatively short runtime—nary a word nor scream were wasted.
It’s hard to imagine a more heartless rendering of Dorothea’s teaching colleague (History of Art—another non-coincidence) and shallower than a birdbath during drought than from Kaylee Harwood as Helena (most certainly not from Troy). Manipulating the hapless Dot (who has been convinced to abandon Bodey and relocate to an upscale, beyond-her-means apartment—all the better to court her boss) to do her bidding, Helena is the perfect foil to Dot’s naiveté and Bodey’s self-serving (“I will never have children”) matchmaking.
Finally (somewhat similar to the “madman” part of Hatch in Bond’s The Sea), the grieving woman upstairs, Miss Gluck (a wonderfully unintended link to Bond as the namesake of the composer of Orfeo ed Eurydice which receives a side-splitting send-up in one of Bond’s farcical scenes) is portrayed by Julain Molnar with gestures (don’t miss the dash to the loo, er, handful) but moans a few decibels too loud to finally receive the empathy she deserves.
With lessons learned, humour in plentiful abundance along with a stellar cast and production crew, there ought not to be an empty seat for the rest of the run. JWR