Regional Reviews: St. Louis
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur
The women in this 1979 script are younger than in the TV series, from their mid-20s to somewhere near 40, and the action is set in the 1940s on a relentlessly hot Sunday morning in the brick-oven apartments of St. Louis. Kelley Weber steals our hearts as the oldest girl, sensible, ebullient, German-American Bodey. She seems the embodiment of every hardheaded, softhearted scrubby-Deutsch gal who grew up on the city's south side. Maggie Wininger is Dorothea, her young new flatmate from Memphis, who (like Blanche in "The Golden Girls") blossoms in the full poetry of romance, having just given herself to the handsome new principal where she teaches.
It's comical, except for the contagious intensity of desire. Dorothea is convinced her new relationship is forever, even as Bodey keeps hiding a relevant society page from the day's newspaper. Had Tennessee Williams been watching too many sitcoms himself, in the late 1970s? Or did he rightly judge that the rest of America had? Bodey and Dorothea are an "odd couple," years after Neil Simon's own hit play and the TV series that followed. And festival organizers say this one-act really is the inspiration for "The Golden Girls." But that almost seems to sell the original work short.
What makes it so worthwhile is the exhibition of a kind of streamlined version of the famed Williams touch, that sensitive "peering into" a world of hidden pain and anguish, beyond this quaint comedy's breezy bonhomie. Bodey can't have children of her own, and is tireless in matchmaking Dorothea with her brother Buddy. She's also devoted to office work at the International Shoe Company (where both Williams and his father had worked), though most women seem to tire of the place very quickly. Meanwhile, Dorothea has a furious fixation on that man she had sex with in Forest Park and, as part of her designs on him, also has a secret plan to get into a swankier apartment. There is a third woman, the pretentious outsider, and a fourth gal they have to prop-up emotionally, who barely speaks a word of English.
Julie Layton skates comically along the edge of melodrama as Helena, the wasp-woman who can't afford a place on toney Westminster Avenue in the West End on her own. (The script is replete with St. Louis City references, most of which are long out of date: both Dorothea and Helena teach at Blewett High, now an intensive school for inner-city teenagers who've become combative in the public schools.) Also, Ellie Schwetye gets consistent laughs (against all odds) as a wailing young woman from upstairs who's lost her mother suddenly in the last week. Two or three long spells of all four of these women talking loudly all at once are cringingly funny. The occasional character asides to the audience seem unnecessary, but probably make sense in the context of the play, in the last days of vaudeville.
It's simple but effective: the good end happily; and the bad, unhappily. And those who fall between struggle bravely back to their feet, vowing to carry on. The American playwright who first envisioned the sexual revolution, and spun a half-dozen immortal characters along that battle line, finally strips it all down to the simplest notes, with delightful results.
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, through May 19, 2019, upstairs at the Tennessee Williams Festival of St. Louis, Grandel Theatre, 3800 Grandel Square, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.twstl.org.