"A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur"
Hartford Stage, Hartford
Hartford Stage’s artistic director Michael Wilson is determined to stage every one of Tennessee Williams’ plays, calling this effort a Tennessee Williams marathon. This is an admirable goal, since Williams is arguably this past century’s greatest American playwright. But not every effort of a master is necessarily up to his best work. And some Williams plays might well have been left in the playwright’s desk drawer.
Such is the case with the trivia piece, “A Lovely Sunday for Creve (pronounced “Creeve”) Coeur,” now playing at Hartford Stage, a so-called comedy which is mercifully only 90-minutes long and, unmercifully, non-stop.
Not that this late Williams piece (written in the 1970s) does not have many of the playwright’s haunting trademarks. Like “The Glass Menagerie,” it is set in St. Louis in the 1930s. And (like “A Streetcar Named Desire”) it features a doomed heroine whose dreams will be shattered by the play’s end. And it skewers snobbery and pretensions of grandeur. But comedy, or farce, was not Williams’ forte, and the attempt is decidedly a failure.
As to the story, Dorothea, a school teacher, is pulled two ways—first, by the gruff, outspoken German-born woman Bodey, with whom she shares a seedy apartment, and secondly by Helena, her colleague, who would have her escape the tacky environs and share an apartment with her. Bodey plans, unrealistically, it would seem, for Dorothea to join her and her fat brother Buddy at a picnic at Creve Coeur Park. She hopes to join the two in marriage.
The two women battle over Dorothea, who looks off into space and waits for her so-called fiancé, the dashing high school principal , to telephone. Adding to the fun is a fat German neighbor who waddles into the apartment, and must be comforted as she grieves for her dead mother. (This last character underscores Williams’ sometime fascination with the grotesque, but does nothing to improve the play.) As to Creve Coeur (translated “broken heart”) Park, it serves well as a symbol for the heroine’s ultimate state. Finally, Dorothea, with her own “creve coeur,” will resign herself and head off to the park.
Written in the latter years of Williams’ career, “Creve Coeur” only proves how much his great talents had deteriorated. Furthermore, much of the play makes no sense. Would Dorothea remain hidden in her room when her friend Helena comes to call? What does the fat neighbor, who appears on Bodey’s doorstep, have to do with the plot?
But in this production directed by Wilson, four competent actresses are assembled on stage. Annalee Jefferies as Dorothea gives a wistful performance, Carlin Glynn is strong as Bodey, Jayne Taini weeps and waddles at the right moments, and Joan van Ark manages to be outrageous as Helena.
But to what end? What do these 90 minutes give us? Only a longing for a first-class production of “The Glass Menagerie” or “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 13, 2006