Category Archive for: ‘Richard Connema’

A Vibrant Production of Tennesse William’s “Sweet Bird of Youth”

A Vibrant  Production of Tennessee William’s “Sweet Bird of Youth”.

 

Tide Theatre Company one of San Francisco’s great innovating small companies takes on Tennessee William’s tragedy “Sweet Bird of Youth” at 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  I am sure that the playwright would be proud of this production since it has an exhilarating cast of actors.

”Sweet Bird” is rarely performed today for some unknown reason. Maybe because the text is a difficult, twisting with a overabundance of furiously miserable souls.  Point of fact the last time I saw a production was in the West End of London at the Haymarket Theatre in 1985. It starred Lauren Bacall as Princess and Michael Beck as Chance. I also saw the original during the spring of 1959 at the Martin Beck in New York. That production starred Paul Newman as Chance and Geraldine Page as Princess.  In that cast were two unknowns at the time Rip Torn and Bruce Dean playing minor roles.

Director Jennifer Welch has rightly honed in on the play’s key idea, it’s the 29 year old Southern man who is escorting an older faded movie star.  When growing up in St. Cloud, Chance (Dan Fagan) adored his girlfriend, Heavenly (Hilary Hesse) and dreams of hitting the big time to impress Boss Finley (Joe Kearns) a ranging conservative politician, her stinking-rich verbose father. Chance is back in town but as a flamboyant gigolo, holed up in hotel with a drunken, drug-addled and ageing Hollywood diva, Alexandra aka Princess.(Fontana Butterfield)  There is no monster like a monster made by Hollywood and Chance with a body beautiful doesn’t stand a chance against Alexandra

Director Jennifer Welsh wisely does not formatively approach this muddled, lyrical play with her trademark truth teller scalpel.  Rather she embraces its florid, fluttering nature in a fabric and video-fused production. Many of the lines have a bitter edge that has made William’s famous such as when Chance says “I used to be the best looking guy in this town” and Princess retaliates “How big is this town”.

Fontana Butterfield gives a richly textured performance as The Princess Kosmonoplis.  She plays the role not a washed-out grand dame so much as a savvy, long-haul star on a sensual, sexual sabbatical. Dan Fagan as the young drifter Chance gives a dynamic performance.  He reveals very clearly by simply allowed his inadequate character to stare out into the abyss, looking impulsively ravaged; the hairy chested servicer of lonely stars has already smashed his head against a ceiling built by the small-minded. Both give superb performances.

Joe Kearns is powerful as the blustery, Huey Long-like politican who believes that castration is a reasonable punishment for the “criminally depraved” such as Chance who had sexual relations with her when she was but fifteen.  Hilary Hesse gives a poignant performance has Heavenly Finley. She plays it almost like a character from the AMC’s series “The Walking Dead”.   Shannon Warrick gives an engaging performance as loud mouth Miss Lucy a person who I was well acquainted with when working in Hollywood. John Terrell is excellent as the puffed-up vengeful son of Boss Finley.

The supporting cast of James Martin, John Lowell, Carolyn Ford Compton, Francis Serpa, Sean B. Hallinan, Carmen Yvette, Ariana Pina, James Baldock, Jeff Graham and Sam Vegas doesn’t disappoint either with every member playing well suited to his or her part.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” production gives silken-handed aid of a design team that includes Alicia Griffins scenic design, Claire Kendrick lighting and Adam Keller projections design.

“Sweet Bird of Youth” plays through August 24th at 533 Sutter Street. San Francisco.  For tickets call 415-399-1322 or on line to www.TidesTheatre.org.

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