The Wooster Group’s Vieux Carré tests the boundaries of emotion & expression
Rating:★★★★ (out of 4)
A theatrical production should do one thing really well: give you something to reflect on, to think about, even after it has concluded. Only then, can you truly treasure the experience you have had. The Wooster Group’s version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré, currently at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage, does precisely that. You are not only left with mixed emotions but are left thinking about subject matters that you otherwise wouldn’t care to think about.
Vieux Carré is an autobiographical play set in a broken-down boarding house in New Orleans, Louisiana, written by one of the most accomplished playwrights in history: Tennessee Williams. The production revolves around a nameless, aspiring writer from St. Louis, Missouri, who is struggling to launch his career as a writer while dealing with poverty, loneliness and homosexuality. In the course of his stay, he gets involved with the many “different” residents at the boarding home, on a journey to understand himself, his desires and his purpose as a human being.
This iconic “memory play” has been given a new breath of life. Frankly, it would need to be. When Vieux Carré was brought to the Broadway stage in 1977, it was a catastrophic failure, closing after only 5 performances. One has to understand the time at which Williams wrote the play and first brought it to Broadway. There was no open discussion about homosexuality with times being more conservative and people more reserved. Williams himself evolved his writing, with his earlier works having no such discussions to Vieux Carré, consisting of openly gay characters. It is not an easy subject to discuss and it requires a delicate approach when being adapted to stage.
The Wooster Group has developed this play with an understanding of current society and the evolution of society’s many values. People are more willing to listen and understand in comparison to our distant past. Every minute detail in the production adds value to the audience experience. The amount of effort and detail gone into the creation of this experience is mind boggling. Each character is unique, showcasing their own perspectives and their own understanding of the world. You are curious in the beginning and as the play develops, you are left intrigued by each performance. Each performance is beautifully performed, not just living up & stay true to their individual characters but to the play as a whole. The lights and set create that visual image of chaos & disorganization while not taking away the audiences attention from the brilliant performances. Nudity is prominent in this production but it is not an element that is abused. It is used to highlight who each of the characters really are in the production.
The one critical & brilliant decision in the entire production was the choice of not having an intermission of any sort. When you sit down, you commit yourself to a two hour theatrical experience. The production uses this opportunity very well. An autobiographical can be intriguing but also at times, dull. Thats just the way it is. Not having an intermission lets one focus on both the exciting details but also the rather dull ones, giving the audience an opportunity to truly understand the characters in the show. Without a distraction you create this “safe space” in which the character can unravel his true emotions and demonstrate who he is as an individual. It is a very small thing but it added to the show experience and its powerful impact.
Vieux Carré is a dramatic look at an individual trying to understand himself, his purpose in life and his problems. Filled with dark humour, spine tingling discussions and a lot of emotion, it is a production that is not trying to sell or convinince the audience about anything. It is simply trying to provide with insight, leaving the audience with something to think about after. With a little patience from the audience end, this production will deliver an absolutely breathtaking performance that you shall not forget any time soon.
Hat’s off to The Wooster Group for a brilliant show and kudo’s to Harbourfront’s World Stage team for hosting such an amazing production for the city of Toronto.
The Wooster Group’s version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré plays Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre until March 31st 2012, with limited tickets currently available. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit: www.harbourfrontcentre.com
ADVISORY: The production contains excessive amounts of nudity, strong language & very mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.