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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Theatre Three’s ‘Vieux Carre’ is an uneven square

Before every production of “Vieux Carré,” which is French for “Old Square,” at Theater Three, Executive Producer-Director Jac Adler proudly tells the audience they are putting on a play that is rarely performed.

It’s no wonder, considering the play has to compete alongside its playwright’s 80-odd other plays, not to mention his award-winning masterpieces such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Written as an autobiographical piece late in his career, “Vieux Carré” feels like an exposition to Tennessee Williams’ life before he became one of America’s most celebrated playwrights.

The play explores human loneliness in characters living at a boarding house in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1938. However, the play is really about “The Writer,” a fictionalized version of Williams as a young man, taking that first step into the real world while observing and learning from the madhouse around him.

The Writer is surrounded by a rich assortment of characters. Mrs. Wire is the fiery landlady of 722 Toulouse Street who takes a maternal liking to her young tenant. Nightingale, the cough-stricken older painter, likes to pay late night visits to his neighbor. Jane is a northern lady who lives an unfulfilling life with her low-life boyfriend Tye. Two elderly women, Miss Carrie and Mary Maude, attempt to keep their gentlewomen statuses while starving. Poor elderly Nursie contemplates retirement every time she answers to Mrs. Wire’s demands.

The problem with “Vieux Carré” is its second act, which seems rather forced after the energetic first half. Williams saves all the serious scenes for after intermission while cramming comical-to-the-point-of-bizarre episodes before it.

The first act is almost an hour and a half long, but the honeymoon phase never wears out its welcome. It is a joy to watch the actors take such outrageous, but conflicted characters and make them resonate with familiar human pain.

Cindy Beall (Mrs. Wire), Bob Hess (Nightingale) and Shelby Davenport (Tye) stand out, mostly due to their command of Williams’ lilting language. Hess, in particular, could recite the weather report and still be captivating with his soothing, rhythmic, and flowing delivery. Beall infuses Mrs. Wire with the necessary crazy authoritativeness that justifies the other characters’ reactions to her, but it is her simple cries of heartache that will be the most vividly remembered. Davenport uses and moves his body most effectively – all of his body. Although unnecessary and weeks late, Theater Three finally delivers the full-frontal nudity it teased audiences with in “The Full Monty.”

The staging of a boarding house in a theater-in-the-round, in which the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides, is a bit tricky.

The minimalist approach works well in conveying the decrepit rooming house, and the stage can easily and ingeniously represent the current room setting.

However, the blocking does not always stick to the positioning rules the play starts out with, which can be jarring.

“Vieux Carré” contains some lovely picturesque moments that reinforce the loneliness theme.

Director Jeffrey Schmidt also adds a nice touch in arranging a little harmonizing number before the start of the second act. Any chance to see more of the three elderly ladies is always a good decision.

Any article remotely connected to New Orleans may seem remiss if it does not mention a certain hurricane. However, Schmidt’s realization of “Vieux Carré” is not about that natural disaster. Changes have no doubt been made to the production since I saw the show on its second preview night and probably will continue to be made up to its Oct. 15 end.

But one man’s maturing journey and the theme of loneliness have probably been kept, if not strengthened.

As long as audiences are touched by at least one kind of loneliness or walk away with a better understanding of the playwright, then the “old street square” has not been overshadowed after all.

Christy Vutam is a sophomore Journalism major. She can be reached at [email protected].

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