Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Finding the Sun
Arthur Miller, of course, wrote about his tempestuous marriage to Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall, and she came off looking self-absorbed and vicious and manipulative (and Miller choseunconvincinglyto make himself look like a life-long innocent). Here, Tennessee Williams, working from 20-year-old notes after a bad case of first heartbreak, seems to have had a vaguely similar experience involving a Canadian draft-dodger, re-told in The Parade, which he completed in 1962.
I shouldn't say the only reason to sit down and watch The Parade is just to see a dazzling before-and-after-the-gay-rights-movement awakening. And yet that is the most stunning result when this 45-minute one-act is paired with Edward Albee's short 1982 play, Finding the Sun, both under the direction of Sam Hack. Set against Albee's much more modern (and upper-class) view, Williams does seem existentially glum, perpetually mired in his Mississippi roots. But that's the way things were, back in the 1940s, and, one assumes, for thousands of years before that. Do you need to know the terrible pointlessness of that kind of heartbreak? Probably so, if you're going to see how things had changed for the gay characters forty years later, in the second play, along with the advent of indoor plumbing. It's a don't miss opportunity: through the looking-glass, with two of the biggest names in the business, in their first and only "collaboration."
The story recounts a time in which Mr. Williams found his way up to New England, before he found his way to Broadway. There, he had an affair with a 21-year-old who reminded him of a famous dancer, only to find out that the (slightly) younger man was already involved with a pretty young lady whowait for itis made up to look just like Arthur Miller's cruel muse, Marilyn Monroe. Cue the "Twilight Zone" music, please.
But neither character, Don (the author) or Dick (the dancer), has many psychological resources to deal with their aggregate self-involvement, though Mason Hooten has a very nice, oblivious delivery as he practices his dance steps, skirting the entreaties of Reynard Fox as the author. Amy Schwarz is excellent as Miriam, the New York socialite who'd marry the obviously gay, struggling writer if only he were a fraction more reckless. Mr. Fox and Ms. Schwarz make Don and Miriam's intimate scene on the beach very tormented and seductive, with her great beauty and heartbreak and his own genius, just beginning to find its way out.
We also get a glimpse of Williams' father, appallingly self-righteous, and some nice atmospherics on a beach with a little platform for air-drops of mailbags: messages from the heavens, constantly threatening to flatten the nascent genius or his would-be lovers. In the end, it's the dancer who gets flattened, at least by Williams' writing. But you have to admit, it's a brave thing when actors put themselves into one of a playwright's most naïve workslike supermodels, daring to walk down the runway in some of Coco Chanel's first designs, before she quite learned to sew properly, or, in this case, before the playwright had fully learned to feel and observe, when he made his first notes on the piece. But boy-howdy, with the Albee one-act after the break, the catalytic reaction is perfectly eye-popping, as gay theater characters suddenly take flight.
The Parade and Albee's Finding the Sun are marketed together, as "A Walk on the Beach with Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee," though in a sense, they're really walking in opposite directions: one, into the past, bittersweet; the other into a future of merciful reconciliation.
The Parade (or, Approaching the End of a Summer) continues through April 5, 2009 at the South Campus of Washington University (the former CBC high school, across from the Esquire Theater on Clayton Rd.). For information call (314) 721-9228 or visit them online at www.placeseveryone.org.