Review: The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré (The Wooster Group / Harbourfront World Stage)

Experimental theatre by New York City’s The Wooster Group offers up Toronto production of Vieux Carré

Arriving a few minutes early to The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré, which plays until March 31st at Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre, I listened to the audience chatter.

“And are you an actor?” and, “Oh yeeah, how’d the opening for that go?” – some familiar refrains.

And though this sort of schmooze is typical before any show – actors seem to have a higher tendency to go to the work of other actors – I suspect The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré drew an unusually large number of theatre students and professionals.

I base this suspicion on the talkback.

In my experience, talkbacks, an opportunity after a performance for the cast and production team to engage with the audience, have a substantial rate of attrition, especially in a crowd as large as the one on Thursday night at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

This one was packed!

A recurring theme of the talkback was sound design. And I can appreciate why: sound, like video, and movement, is deployed experimentally throughout the work.

At first I was a bit irritated by this. It seemed like endless layers of atmosphere; establishing that the non-realistic set was meant to stand in for a rooming house. Whether or not the world outside the rooming house – New Orleans – is going through tough times is unclear. But going by its denizens, the world offers lonely and unfulfilling experiences.

When The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré resolves into some coherence, from those preliminary moments of figures on flat screen monitors, fetish-esque use of a hand fan, and surreal, almost disorienting flashes of white light, it almost immediately drew me in.

The vaunted poetry of Mr. Williams’ work, which I always thought was a bit overrated, finally struck me the way it must have struck so many others. Its ease with vernacular, imagery, and philosophy totally intoxicated me. Mr. Williams’ dialogue quenched me of a thirst I didn’t even know I had, to hear people speaking-out – taking risks with one another.

Performers Ari Fliakos as The Writer, Daniel Jackson as The Pickup, Scott Shepherd as Tye McCool, and Daniel Pettrow as Sky were particularly good, I thought.

Kate Valk playing the characters Mrs. Wire and Jane Sparks, was mesmerizing to me.

But, it has to be said: what makes The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré captivating – after that initial stage of aggravation – is how unconventional elements like video, particularly in one sequence when The Writer is hammering-away at the keys, and sound – there is, at times, a very slight echo that allows words to more fully reverberate and ensconce – are deployed.

One lighting effect that I never quite got over though, is the flashes of white, punctuating the work.

In the talkback, the use of the flashes is explained, and made sense. But I still found them oddly scary, as though we were inside the brain of Tennessee Williams as the neurons were short-circuiting. They took me out of the world of the play – or maybe reinforced it as artifice – that, in any case, I wasn’t cool with.

If you have a chance though, and especially if you’re into experimental theatre, The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré cannot be missed.

Details

The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré is playing at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West) until Saturday, March 31st 2012
– Showtime is 8:00 PM
– Ticket prices range from $15.00 to $45.00
– Tickets can be purchased at the theatre, or by phone 416-973-4000
– For more information, please visit harbourfrontcentre.com.

 

One thought on “Review: The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré (The Wooster Group / Harbourfront World Stage)”

  1. This one is not for people with “delicate sensibilities”. All warnings are more than completely fulfilled. I’m glad to have seen it though, and thank World Stage for bringing in Wooster Group to do this Tennessee Williams rarity.

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