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St. Louis by Richard Green

Vieux Carré
Muddy Waters Theatre Company

Vieux Carrre
Julie Layton, Luke Lindberg
and Jared Sanz-Agero

I think I know why Tennessee Williams' story about desperate lodgers in a seedy New Orleans rooming house doesn't get the play of any of his earlier, better-known works. Of course, you could just blame it on its own obscurity, or the lackluster reviews it drew when it first appeared on Broadway. But all of that may stem from a deeper cause: the best-known Williams plays focus on just a few desperate characters, poetically trapped by the desires of their hearts. Here, in a play from the twilight of his career, there are tragic pots boiling away in every room of 722 Toulouse Street. If that puts this 1977 play at the wrong end of the literary spectrum, rubbing shoulders with soap operas, well, so be it. It's still Williams, and Muddy Waters' new production is full of great images and highly theatrical moments. It's also boasts far more than the usual quotient of sex for Williams. But, then again, it is from 1977.

In Vieux Carré, Luke Lindberg picks up pretty much where he left off from his last appearance on stage, as Tom in The Glass Menagerie late last year, for a different theater. Here, he's playing a young man who could easily be the same Tom, newly broken out of that St. Louis apartment and his dead-end job at the shoe factory, transplanted to New Orleans where he must try, try again as a writer, coping with rejection slips that hold only the vague promise of eventual success. Happily, the boyish Mr. Lindberg was excellent in Williams' first big hit, and equally so in his last hurrah. The fact that he bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Tennessee, along with the accidental sequencing of the two plays, one after the other, must make for a delicious moment in his career. Not to mention the possible beginnings of a unique cottage industry, playing the playwright.

Director Annamaria Pileggi draws strong, romantic performances from her ten-person cast, whose work is invariably well tailored in pace and gesture. Peggy Billo is outstanding as the obnoxious landlady trying to collect rent from hopeless boarders; and Julie Layton is indelibly beautiful, and keening of heart, as the girl in a whole lot of trouble. If those two characters sound a little too much like the mother and sister from The Glass Menagerie, well, the resemblance is really only on paper. Kevin Beyer spirals beautifully downward as the desperate homosexual in the next room, trying in vain to find happiness as he dies of tuberculosis. And you can almost see right through Sally Eaton, who's nearly worn away as Carrie, the malnourished tenant, brilliantly tremulous holding on to a pretense of social standing. It's too bad all these characters came out long after Amanda Wingfield and Catherine Holly and Blanche DuBois and so on - it makes them seem a bit self-plagiarized. But, as autobiography, it's the final piece in an artistic puzzle, revealing the headwaters of genius.

Jared Sanz-Agero is rough and raunchy as Ms. Layton's husband, and Charlie Heuvelman is funny and outrageous as another boarder. The whole cast is perfectly smooth in a play that's lustful and broad, and ephemeral as the mist around a French Quarter street lamp.

Through March 1, 2008 at the St. John's Church third-floor theater, 5000 Washington Place, at the corner on Kingshighway. For information call (314) 540-7831 or visit them online at www.muddywaterstheatre.com.

Cast
The Writer: Luke Lindberg
Mrs. Wire: Peggy Billo*
Nursie: Lynelle White
Nightingale: Kevin Beyer
Jane: Julie Layton
Tye: Jared Sanz-Agero
Miss Carrie: Sally Eaton
Mary Maude: Karen Wood
Sky/Pick-Up: Joshua Thomas
Photographer: Charlie Heuvelman

Crew
Director: Annamaria Pileggi
Scenic, Lighting Design: Sean Savoie
Master Electrician: John Ryan
Costume Design: Bonnie Kruger
Costume Assistant: Liz Henning
Sound Design: Elizabeth Birkenmeier
Stage Manager: Samantha Chalk
Assistant Director/Assistant Stage Manager: Ted Drury
Running Crew: Monica Imgrund

*Denotes member of Actors Equity, the union of professional stage managers and actors in the United States.

Photo: John Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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