Monday, November 22, 2010

Worthwhile, Well-Done 'Sweet Bird of Youth' Almost a Heavenly Chance Encounter: Theater Review

Theater Review

Sweet Bird of Youth
a play by Tennessee Williams
The Artistic Home, Chicago
Thru December 19, 2010

Like The Lonesome West, a play by Martin McDonagh I saw the night before and reviewed below, Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth is not the very best work by an outstanding playwright--or so I perceive after my initial encounter--but it is pretty damn good.

Especially in the hands of The Artistic Home, a Chicago production troupe whose work I was seeing for the first time and another in an apparently endless array of local venues where you can witness truly first-rate performances. The depth of theatrical talent in the Chicago area never ceases to amaze me; in 2010 alone, I have seen productions from 25 local companies--some in settings smaller than a soup can--and nearly all have been stellar, at worst.

While I didn't absolutely love Sweet Bird of Youth and neither Williams' narrative nor this rendition seemed note perfect, they both have plenty of readily apparent merits. I should probably see the 1962 movie starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page--who also starred in the original Broadway production--to gain a better understanding of the source material. For while Josh Odor and Kathy Scambiatterra are both good here as gigolo Chance Wayne and fading movie star Alexandra Del Lago, the scenes with the two of them together were, for me, the least interesting in the play. Yet they seemed to be the most important.

With Chance accompanying Alexandra to his fictional hometown of St. Cloud, Florida (not to be confused with the non-coastal real St. Cloud, Florida) in hopes of rekindling his romance with Heavenly Finley (played here by Elizabeth Argus), without giving too much away, he runs afoul of her father and brother. And whatever psychological-study reason Williams had for diverting his script from any direct interaction between Chance and Heavenly or Chance and Boss Finley, I left the theater thinking that might have been more fulfilling than what I witnessed.

Obviously, The Artistic Home can't be held accountable for the decisions made by one of the greatest playwrights ever, and while most of their interpretation--from first-rate performances to a convincing set in a small space--was top-notch, something didn't quite click as well as I thought it should have.

As such, at this point I'd put Sweet Bird of Youth on par with Night of the Iguana, quite good but a step below Williams' masterworks, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which I've yet to see on stage but is currently running at the Raven Theater). But especially for less than $20 on HotTix, even if it's not quite a Heavenly-Chance encounter, The Artistic Home's production is well-worth Tennesseeing.

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