February 21, 2006

Theater Review - Sweet Bird of Youth

Luck has run out for Chance in “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the Tennessee Williams play currently in production at the Ogle Center at Indiana University Southeast. Chance Wayne’s youthful indiscretions catch up with him when he returns to his hometown of St. Cloud, a Gulf Coast city where the 1950s personalities are as stifling as the humidity.Chance (Corey Long) fell in love with Heavenly (Anna Saltsgaver), the daughter of powerful politician Boss Finley (Christopher Shiner). But Chance, a gigolo and aspiring actor, passed Heavenly a disease so dreadful that her reproductive system was removed. Now Boss wants to do the equivalent to Chance, who has hooked up with Alexandra Del Lago (Jennifer Poliskie), an aging movie star.The play focuses on characters who inhabit a particularly brutal society. My date called the play “spirit crushing.” This may have referenced Chance’s imminent castration, but it likely was a comment on the characters’ vicious lives and how gloomy Williams’ writing can be. And in the right hands, Williams can be mesmerizing.For the IUS cast, crew and director Rand Harmon, the production has some stirring moments: when Chance discovers Heavenly is barren; when Heavenly’s brother Tom (Randy D. Pease) threatens to remove Chance’s manhood; and when Boss is heckled at a rally. (The rally is skillfully projected on floor-to-ceiling panels.) Long, Pease and Poliskie (an IUS alumna) turn in some good moments. But overall, the play — at nearly two and three-quarter hours — drags.Reviewing college and high school productions makes me anxious because the stage is a learning lab for student actors. This production is a chance for students to travel through a Williams play, to pull apart its elements and spend a semester analyzing character motivations. The trouble here is that the unhinged parts were not entirely pieced together again.