The Clap: Tennessee Williams's Vieux Carre'

3.2.2011

By Scott Hocker

Welcome to Out.com's new theater column, The Clap. We'll be covering noteworthy productions in New York City, with occasional forays into exciting goings-ons in other cities.

What better way to begin than with the high priest of U.S. queer theater, Tennessee Williams? Banish any visions of the Williams you think you know, though. One of New York City's finest and most long-lived experimental theater collectives, the Wooster Group, has tackled one of Williams's later, thornier plays, Vieux Carr', and the results are smashing.

Critics and scholars have argued intensely as to whether Vieux Carr' is an exemplary piece of fraught storytelling or the ramblings of a playwright far past his prime. The Wooster Group's superb production runs through March 13. Here are our top five reasons to catch the show:

5) Portrait of Tennessee as a Young Man Like The Glass Menagerie, Vieux Carr' is a memory play. But even more than many of Williams's plays, Vieux Carr' is especially autobiographical. It's set in a boardinghouse in New Orleans during the Depression, as a young writer wrestles with his sexuality and what it means to be an artist.

4) The Wooster Way One of The Wooster Group's signature aesthetics is its sublime way with multimedia. The stage for Vieux Carr' is riddled with monitors and video cameras, so while the group honors the text, it also refracts the meanings and subtexts of Williams's words through the use of looped video and live feeds.

3) A Cast of Characters The Wooster Group often spends years tweaking and perfecting its shows. As such, the actors in Vieux Carr' embody their roles with astonishing fervor and precision. Ari Fliakos as Williams's surrogate, The Writer, and Wooster Group muse Kate Valk as both the crazed landlady and a woman fallen from the grace are especially good.

2) Race War The Wooster Group upends Vieux Carr's questionable depiction of the Southern patois'speaking Nursie by going full-bore. So, as deftly played by Kaneza Schaal, the character bursts into gospel and stands behind a video screen, where Nursie's features are broadcast to a wide-eyed extreme that mocks blackface.

1) Dildos A Go-Go This production of Vieux Carr' embraces the sexuality at the heart of Williams's tale. The lascivious and lecherous painter Nightingale prances the stage wearing a strap-on; The Writer mimics receiving fellatio as a live feed of him is superimposed on an image of a man giving head. This Williams fever dream is hot.

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