Los Angeles Theater Review: VIEUX CARRÉ  (Coeurage Theatre Company at Lankershim Arts Center)

by Jason Rohrer on February 28, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Tennessee Williams deserves the credit he gets for a few outstanding texts, but for my money much of his oeuvre has been falsely enriched, and the late, long Vieux Carré (1977) is widely and correctly regarded as not among his best. It is easy to shudder when contemplating an old man’s memory play, especially one about a youth already profoundly plumbed by the author in many minor works. A nervous gay tyro learns the ropes as a down and outer among the jetsam inhabiting his miserable flophouse: he learns to hustle, he learns to protect his heart and ego. Ironically if not at all surprisingly, he learns to type about characters other than himself, a trick Williams lost the hang of.

Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Jay Lee, Sammi Smith in Coeurage Theatre Company’s Vieux Carre by Tennessee Williams (Photo by Nardeep Khurmi)

What Jeremy Lelliott has done in directing a strong new production is doubly impressive: He has enhanced the relevance of an imperfect text by the expedient of good casting, and he has smartly indulged its inherent theatricality by encouraging a sensual languor in the design elements. Donna Eshelman’s movement of these fine actors, and Brandon Baruch’s lighting of JR Bruce’s ghostly set, give weight and power to the meandering story. The heightened realities could be more thickly applied for a more consistent tonality – the dancing physicality is tantalizingly occasional, and Jeff Gardner’s fun foley design is less effective than it might have been if James Ferrero’s sound design had been a little better mixed; sometimes the recorded music jarred, and the live sound effects were consistently undermiked at the performance I saw. Still, as almost never happens, the clear intention was enough for me.

Dieterich Gray, left, and Jay Lee in Coeurage Theatre Company’s Vieux Carre by Tennessee Williams (Photo by Nardeep Khurmi)

Overall this show offers the most complete stylistic universe I have witnessed from this director, and in it, the actors perform as if their characters have been liberated from a word-prison. Melinda deKay plays an addled, overbearing landlady as if such a character were not a tiresome cliché. It’s one of the most impressive feats in a crowded field that includes Dieterich Gray’s dissolute pederast, Leontine Guilliard’s sassy housemaid, Shawn Taylor-Corbett’s hypermasculine brute: These cold archetypes leap to hot life here. They and a half-dozen other performers, too many and too good to start mentioning one by one, make this another Coeurage Theatre production distinguished by a fine, sometimes astonishing ensemble. How good are they? Long before I saw the show, I had promised myself not to write another word about this company for the rest of the year. I’ll try to start now.

vieux carre ensemble

photos by Nardeep Khurmi

Vieux Carré
Coeurage Theatre Company
Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood
ends on March 12, 2016
for tickets (Pay What You Want), visit Coeurage

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