Archive Review: Sweet Bird of Youth

I’ve decided to spice up this blog a bit by releasing archived reviews of mine, not currently visible anywhere else online.

Here’s my review of a sturdy off-off-Broadway revival of Sweet Bird of Youth from 2007:

Hallelujah! The string of strong Tennessee Williams revivals continues unabated! Everybody please notice, these productions feature no stars and are the work of inspired and hard-working non-profit companies. Following a glowing take on “Summer and Smoke” at Paper Mill Playhouse, and a eye-opening edition of the rarely-revived “In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel” from the White Horse Theater Company we now have a “Sweet Bird of Youth” from T. Schrieber Studios that hits more exciting high notes than you would expect in such a small-scale production.

Tennessee described ”Sweet Bird” as “a play in which the careers of Chance Wayne and the Princess Kosmonopolis provide complementary illustrations of America’s adulation of youth and the collapse that ensues for people who follow this dream once the youth has fled.” Chance returns to his home town with a faded movie star, Princess Kosmonopolis, hoping she will help re-unite him with his childhood sweetheart, Heavenly Finley. Chance has no idea that his past actions have injured Heavenly or that her father, the Mayor of their small-town home, has sworn out a racially-charged edict against him.

The highlight of this production is Joanna Bayless as Princess Kosmonopolis. From the moment she screams and sits bolt upright in her hotel bed–almost falling out of her champagne-colored slip—to her exit accompanied by a state trooper, Bayless finds every note of hope and despair, monstrosity and compassion that Williams wrote into this bravura role.

Her co-star Eric Watson Williams doesn’t appear to have gotten fully under the skin of beautiful loser Chance Wayne. He has the dissolute good looks Chance needs, and plays with clarity on all the levels the role requires, but his performance feels a bit pushed, not quite natural.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong and designer Hal Tine’s flexible set creates a sensual atmosphere. Christopher Rummel’s sound design reaches for that same sensuality, but his over-reliance on hushed jazz underscoring quickly grows more annoying than evocative. Williams’ speeches are musical enough in and of them themselves—scoring them this way is numbing overkill.

Still, these are small quibbles when you consider that this “Bird” more successfully captures Williams’ sensibility and dramatic intelligence than any Broadway production of a Williams play in recent memory. Another successful Williams revival—Hooray! 

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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