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A CurtainUp Review
That gin was slow, maybe, but that man is a fast one, seducing a girl with adjustable seats... — Bodey.
Jean Lichty and Annette O'Toole (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Having missed the opportunity to see the one and only New York production of Tennessee Williams' A Lovely Sunday in Creve Coeur back in 1979,I jumped at the chance to see this rarity by the great dramatist as presented by La Femme Theater Productions (the company's first solo production) under the direction of Austin Pendleton (That gentleman is getting around lately and laudably).

Unquestionably, Williams' fortunes, both personal and professional, had peaked by the time this play appeared. But genius will out and in this instance shows him as remarkably perceptive, seemingly foreseeing aspects of the MeToo Movement.

The story is set in a not quite squalid St. Louis efficiency apartment (designed with a decoratively loopy vision by Harry Feiner), a short hop on the trolley to Creve Coeur Park. In it, four amusing but also poignantly fabricated women become engaged as well as entangled in an affair of the heart.

Comedic as well as melancholy at its core, the play provides a space for the emotionally vulnerable and physically fragile Dorothea (Jean Lichty), who like Alma in Summer and Smoke and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire , is given to projecting a gauzy not quite delusionary reality to suit her circumstances. She is a school teacher who believes that the good-looking cad who has seduced her is now her knight in shining armor. There is an unbalanced edge to Ms Lichty's performance as she flits about the cluttered apartment mostly in a state of nervous anticipation waiting for a phone call that makes Dottie's romantic fantasy all the more heartbreaking.

Despite her dependance on medication, Dottie seems mostly buoyed by her thoughts of being carried off and away from the confines of the dreary but functional apartment she shares with Bodey (Kristine Nielsen), a savvy down-to-earth but also protective German-American who stands as an amusing and more roughly-hewn counterpart to Dottie's gentility.

Delivering a grand mix of hell-fire and hilarity Nielsen is terrific as Dottie's hard-of-hearing but soft hearted to a fault guardian angel. But, to a fault, she is intent on making a match between Dottie and her twin brother Buddy (unseen) whose unattractiveness becomes quite a challenge for the earnest matchmaker.

Bodey doesn't spare Dottie her words of wisdom nor does she mince words around Dottie's snooty schoolteacher friend Helena (Annette O'Toole). Stinging condescension and derision mark Helena's personality during a visit that lasts for most of the play's length. Helena has her hopes on renting a newer apartment in a nicer part of town and wants the conflicted Dottie to move out and in with her. She unapologetic challenges the protective role that the also lonely Bodey plays in Dottie's life.

Finally, theres Miss Gluck (Polly McKie), a Germanic nutcase who lives alone in an apartment above but visits often enough to upend what little civility and pretense there is. Miss Gluck's out-of-control ramblings (in German) are perfectly executed by Ms McKie and possibly reflect the rising of Williams' own demons.

Williams lovers will delight in the contentiousness of the brittle and baiting conversations/confrontations. That he is able to make us laugh and feel deeply at the same time is a credit to his genius. Watching and waiting for Dottie to find her solace and accept the inevitable resolve gives the play a bittersweet quality. I must quibble however about not being able to hear and understand about twenty five percent of Ms. Lichty's words (confirmed by others near me), something that should have been addressed by the director. At its best, this play with its mostly playful dialogue and purposeful vision, is all in keeping with a Williams looking for escape but only finding (heartbreak) Creve Coeur.

The original Off Broadway production in 1979 starred Shirley Knight, Peg Murray, Charlotte Moore (now the renowned Artistic Director of the Irish Repertory Company) and Jane Lowry.

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A Lovely Sunday in Creve Coeur ny Tennessee Williams
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Cast: Jean Lichty (Dorothea), Kristine Nielsen (Bodey), Annette O'Toole (Helena), Polly McKie (Miss Gluck)
Scenic & Lighting Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Beth Goldenberg
Original Music and Sound Design: Ryan Rumery
Wig & Hair Design: Leah Loukas
Dialect Design & Dramaturgy: Amy Stoller
Fight Director: Ron Piretti
Movement Consultant: Shelley Senter
Assistant Director: Jonathan Mann
Production Stage Manager: Marci Skolnick
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes no intermission
La Femme Theatre Productions at Theatre at St. Clements, 423 W. 46th Street.
Performances: Wed. and Thurs at 7 pm; Fri and Sat at 8 pm; Sat mat at 2 pm; Sun mat at 3 pm.
From 09/14/18 Opened 09/23/18 Ends 10/21/18
Review by Simon Saltzman at performance of 09/20/18.

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