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Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead
By Tennessee Williams
fortyfivedownstairs, until February 3
THE late, autobiographical work Vieux Carre recalls with languorous rhythm Tennessee Williams’ sexual awakening in the humid squalor of 1930s New Orleans.
Queer characters and the playwright’s famed sense of place are central to this play of erotic and artistic emergence, and the design, especially Alexandra Hiller’s set, makes the seedy rooming house come alive with the intensity of memory too often recollected, with a crepuscular sense of Southern heat and decay.
The acting isn’t as reliable. Thomas Blackburne portrays the young Williams figure as impossibly spectral and one-noted. He gets the radiant naivety and shyness at the start but there is no character development.
Still, Vieux Carre can be carried by the strong women and lost souls that surround the young writer. Francesca Waters commands the stage as the dignified, put-upon Nursie. Kelly Nash impresses as the broken-hearted dragon lady who runs the guesthouse.
Samantha Murray’s fallen New York fashion designer balances intellect and destructive sensuality; Des Fleming brings out the complexities in her no-good lover, while Stephen Whittaker’s consumptive gay painter starts well.
Director Alice Bishop has a sensitive ear for the cadences in Williams’ work, but some wilder scenes that should be moving are berserk and bathetic.