October 9, 2012

Sweet Bird of Youth

The Chicago Theatre season is sizzling this fall with the Goodman Production of Sweet Bird of Youth starring Diane Lane and Finn Wittrock.  Directed by David Cromer, this Tennesee Williams classic surely was well staged, directed and acted.

The play is set in a small southern town along the Gulf called St. Cloud and centers around two people who are drawn to each other by their mutual need to use each other.  One is Princess Kosmonopolis, who's real name is Alexandra Del Lago and played superbly by Diane Lane.  She is a fading movie star trying to hide incognito in a small hotel.  The Princess tries to cling onto her star and revive her fading youth by she associating with an aspiring actor, Chance Wayne (Finn Wittrock).  Chance trades sexual favors in the hopes that his association with the Princess will open doors for him in Hollywood.  As the play opens, they are in Chance's hometown so he can win back his childhood love.  Here in lies the complication of the play.  Due to Chance's trysts with his love, Heavenly (Kristina Johnson), not only has her reputation suffered but she has been constantly judged and berated by her father, Boss Finley (John Judd).  He is a hypocritical morally right politician more concerned about his image than his daughter.  Boss Finley wants Chance out of St. Cloud and out of  his daughter's life and threatens Chance with castration. 

Although I am not familiar with Sweet Bird as a play but having seen some of Tennessee Williams' plays, I knew this one would also not end so well for the central characters. While sitting in the theatre there was a sinking feeling in my gut as the play progressed and as I witness the characters plunge into self-destruction.  It's an uncomfortable feeling but nonetheless there. 

Playing Princess Kosmonopolis, Diane Lane projects an elegant but decaying aura.  She is wonderful to watch and has seemed to transformed into a Joan Crawford-esque persona complete with an out of body voice and intonation of a 1950's actress.  It's so impressive to hear her in that voice that you don't know where it came from.  She fades into the character and gets lost in her persona.  Having been gone from the stage in 23 years hasn't affected her stage chops a bit.  It's as if she never left.  No awkwardness at all but a powerful stage presence instead. As Chance, Finn Wittrock plays against her so well and matches head to head with Ms. Lane.  He balances the charm of being a gigolo with the vulnerability of a defeated man.  He is devastating particularly in his last monologue.  One of the more appalling characters that I've ever encountered on stage is Boss Finley (played to wonderful effect by John Judd).  He is the epitome of the morally righteous yet hypocritical man.  I cringe with his every line he blurts out particularly to his daughter.  In discussing the play afterwards with my friends Tom and Barb, it's too funny that we seem to recall Boss Finley character as very Todd Akin-esque (of the "legitimate rape" comment).  I guess that's the best way to describe him.

I have to commend the great set design by James Shuette which seem to connote a glamorous yet decaying era.  David Cromer's direction and staging is compelling particularly in the last act when most of the confrontations are staged.  He had the set on a turntable that constantly rotated signaling the ever enclosing threats towards Chance.  It's so suspenseful and adds to the apprehension

The play is a limited engagement at the Goodman Theatre and has already been extended until Oct. 28, 2012.  Don't miss it!

Here are some photos I took that day:

Goodman Theatre marquee

my playbill signed by Finn Wittrock


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