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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
This latest resurrection from the early Williams archives is hardly a masterpiece. However, scholars and admirers of his work won't want to miss this opportunity to see see young Tom Williams grappling with the character types and themes that were to make the name Tennessee Williams synonymous with playwriting at its most poetic and moving.
The play, which takes place in the small town of Port Tyler, Mississippi in the Spring of 1937, is very much the work of a novice with the tendency to stuff his scripts with more characters than he can possibly flesh out and dialogue that for the most part lacks the lyricism that would permeate his mature work.. Seeing it is nevertheless a fascinating experience. Watching the young people whose romantic entanglements drive the plot is like browsing through a sketchbook of preliminary drawings for scenes and characters for Glass Menagerie, A A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Summer and Smoke. (The characters and situations are also oddly reminiscent of one of William Inge's Picnic).
The Southern belle at the center of the tempestuous romantic climate that matches the weather of most of the play's four days and six scenes is the twenty-two-year old daughter of a grand old family of less than grand financial circumstances. Her name is Heavenly Cartwright (Krista Lambden) -- who but Williams could come up with a name that evokes visions of white organdy dresses? Heavenly is enough of a rebel from the rigid small town conventions to have more than a kissing and hugging romance with Dick Miles (Joe B. McCarthy), her sexy but shiftless lower class boyfriend. As she combines elements of both a young Blanche Dubois and her sister Stella, so Dick combines the sexual aggressiveness of Stanley Kowalski and Tom Wingfield's yearning to see the world. To further suggest familiar Williams' types in embryo there's also Arthur Shannon (John Gazzale) , a more genteel and bookish gentleman caller who has always adored her and who is in turn secretly loved by the old-maidish young librarian Hertha Neilson (Kristen Cerelli).
The stormy weather that prevails through much of the four days in April during which Spring Storm's two acts and six scenes play out parallels the storm brewing in the lives of Heavenly, Dick, Arthur and Hertha. Being Williams characters, no matter how embryonic, this April, proves true to the original title of, April Is the Cruelest Month and their passions will yield no happy endings
To precipitate the storm in the midst of the suffocating small town atmosphere, one of the young men in Heavenly's life is about to go away just as the other has recently come back . Arthur has recently returned to Port Tyler to pursue a banker's career and the, to him, heavenly Heavenly whose memory even a brief affair with a woman in London could not obliterate. Dick, on the other hand, wants to get away from the class conscious, stultifying town and see the world,. When the opportunity to do so knocks via a job working on building a river levee,. Heavenly must choose between abandoning her social position for being the sexually fulfilled wife of a "river rat" or marrying Arthur. as her pragmatic mother (Elizabeth Kemp), an easily recognized forerunner to Amanda Wingfield, urges her to do..
Two other key female characters are an amalgam of the lonely and repressed Southern spinsters who populate the Tennessee Williams landscape: Heavenly's Aunt Lila (Carlin Glynn), who once loved Arthur's father; and Hertha, the impoverished (economically and emotionally) librarian who will never have her own children to read to as she does to the town's children. These women also happen to be this play's best realized characters, with the most resonant dialogue and scenes and the actresses portraying these prototype of lonely Williams women give the most satisfying performances. Corelli is particularly good in the feverish middle scene of the play's second and better second act during which a drunken Arthur melts her repressed feelings-- only to cruelly reject her and thus provoke the inevitably tragic ending. Glynn captures the rueful, wry humor of the Aunt who relates better to young Heavenly than her domineering mother.
David Gideon doesn't have a chance to make much of an impression as the head of the Crichtfield household and the play's most underwritten character. Still, the nervous stomach and hint of a serious illness once again hint at a much richer future character, Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
This being a small company without name actors or a large production budget, Coy Middlebrook and his design team deserve high marks for the staging which uses a few movable props to suggest the multiple locations. Middlebrook has smartly taken advantage of the fact that the Theatre at St. Clements is in a church. He has the Reverend Hooker (Drew McVety) launch the opening church processional by throwing open the shutters to reveal the church's beautiful stained glass windows. While I don't usually like to see a lot of props being moved around in between scenes, kudos to the cast for gamely doing double duty as prop movers and achieving the numerous scene shifts smoothly and without the abruptness of end of scene blackouts.
Despite being more of a case study in a major writer's development than a newly discovered masterpiece, Spring Storm is very much a theatrical event and LOBO Theatre deserves our gratitude for giving us a chance to see it even though only for a limited run.. At $19 a ticket, it's also an experience within every theater goer's means.
For links to CurtainUp's review of Not About Nightingale and l other Tennessee Williams plays see our Tennessee Williams Background Pagee
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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