'Pity and patience are exhausted."
You said it, Tennessee. This late Williams play, resurrected from a deserved grave by EgoPo, demonstrates (at least it did at a recent preview) exactly why it ran only five performances on Broadway in 1977. As a New Orleans reviewer wrote then, "Da chicory's on da stove, da cockroaches are on da walls, and all da characters are on da de-cline."
Not only is Vieux Carre overwritten, it's overdirected and overacted.
If the production didn't take itself so seriously, it would be tempting to see it as a parody - all moanin' and shriekin' and coughin' and succumbin' and gropin' - with everyone in underwear or silk robes they twitch at incessantly. All the usual French Quarter types have been rounded up in a decaying Vieux Carre mansion-now-boardinghouse.
The landlady, Mrs. Wire (Leah Walton), who missed her exit years ago and is watched over by Nursie (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), alternately tyrannizes and protects the self-deluded tenants, the predatory gay man (Andrew Borthwick-Leslie) dying of tuberculosis who maintains he has asthma, the impoverished antebellum ladies (Kristen Schier and Sarah Schol) who eat garbage, the failed New York designer (Megan Hoke) drunk on sex and supporting a sleazy peep-show barker (Nathan Edmondson).
The central character is the Tennessee Williams surrogate called The Writer (Doug Greene), who alternates between his youthful self, pecking away at a typewriter, and his older self, with the signature TW hat and leisurely, swaggering strut. This is a memory play, but it's no Glass Menagerie.
The set uses the awkward space at Christ Church Neighborhood House in awkward ways, with strips of floor lighting to signify hallways and stairways, which the characters walk through with unbearable slowness. Over and over again. When they're not walking, they're taking off their clothes, putting on their clothes, making the beds, lying down, getting up. Over and over again.
There are sex scenes that are gratuitously protracted and crass. And near the end, while one couple are locked in a nearly naked, leg-entangling embrace for about 10 minutes, another couple, the two gay men, actually croon to each other in whispers through hand-held microphones.
The lighting seems to announce "moody" with every self-conscious shadow. This production is a must-see only if you're a Tennessee fan and Vieux Carre is missing from your set. And if you really go in for the obscure, in March EgoPo is doing Something Cloudy, Something Clear, which had an Off-Off-Broadway production in 1981.
Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Lane Savadove. Musical director: Daniel T. Peterson. Sets by Dan Soule, lighting by Matt Sharp, costumes by Annie Canzano.
Cast: Andrew Borthwick-Leslie (Nightingale), Robert DaPonte (Sky), Nathan Edmondson (Tye), Doug Greene (The Writer), Megan Hoke (Jane), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Nursie), Kristen Schier (Mary Maude), Sarah Schol (Miss Carrie), Leah Walton (Mrs. Wire).
Playing at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American St., Through Dec. 22. Tickets: $28. Information: 215-552-8773 or www.egopo.org