Chicago Theatre Review
Great Staging of Minor Williams at Raven Theatre
I should get this out of the way right at the start – anyone who attends Raven Theatre’s excellent staging of “Vieux Carré” expecting a theatrical experience on par with “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” or “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will likely walk away disappointed, because “Vieux Carré” is simply not one of the classic writer’s best plays.
Autobiographical in nature, Williams began writing the play – which concerns sad, lonely artistic spirits living in a rooming house in New Orleans’ French Quarter – shortly after moving to The Big Easy in 1938, and though it would not be staged until nearly 40 years later in 1977, his inexperience shows – awkward first-person narrations to the audience arise apropos of nothing; characters arise instantaneously and disappear just as quickly; and an impressive, deliberate first act, one of considerable humor and New Orleans charm, descends into an over-crowded second act, one marred by a young playwright’s desperate attempts to wrap up every loose end he left untied in the first act. Equal parts interesting and frustrating, “Vieux Carré” truly is the artistic process at work, a play by a talented writer who has not quite found his voice.
Of course, none of those criticisms are to be directed at Raven Theatre’s production, which is as considerate and thoughtful as one would expect from the experienced theatre company. Masterfully staged by Kate Masiak, the production perfectly recreates the visuals and atmosphere of an aging (even mangy) historical New Orleans home with creaky boards, dirty sheets, and clever use of Raven’s limited stage space that effectively allows the audience to peer into the two-story house and its foyer, kitchen, hallways, and three bedrooms. And despite the play’s inconsistencies with its characters, Director Cody Estle does get subtle, moving performances from his actors, particularly from JoAnn Montemurro (who plays Mrs. Wire, the manipulative, imbalanced owner of the rooming house) and Will Casey (as a lonely, tubercular, gay painter).
But again, great staging can rarely overcome lackluster source material, and though “Vieux Carré” does contain traces of the mystical, haunting Williams mystery, it never quite coalesces.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented May 6 – June 28 by Raven Theatre Company, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60660
Tickets are available by calling 773-338-2177 or by visiting www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.