Last week I finally had the opportunity to see a play I have been anticipating for quite some time, Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth at the Goodman Theatre. The play, directed by David Cromer, focuses primarily on two characters: Alexandra del Lago (Diane Lane) and Chance Wayne (Finn Wittrock).
At the outset of the play, we meet Alexandra and Chance in a hotel room. How they know one another is not clear, but it isn't long before their relationship is revealed to us. Alexandra, as we soon find out, is a drug-dependent, anxiety-ridden actress whose comeback attempt appears to have failed spectacularly, prompting her to check into a hotel along the Gulf Coast -- St. Cloud, Florida, to be exact -- under the alias “The Princess Kosmonopolis.” Chance, her companion, is a St. Cloud native and, as we learn, a gigolo. He never really had a proper career, opting to rely on his looks -- which are now fading, along with his youth -- in order to get by. His “relationship” -- for those who wish to call it that -- with The Princess is one of convenience. He remains with her, taking care of her, listening to her, and following her orders with the expectation that she will, at some point, promote him as a new, up-and-coming talent, launching his film career. She is his vehicle to stardom.
For Chance there are a couple of very specific reasons for returning to St. Cloud. First, he has come back to show the townsfolk that he has finally become the success, the soon-to-be star he had always hoped to be. Why else would he be in town with movie star Alexandra del Lago? Second, and more importantly for Chance, now that he is a success -- or thinks himself one -- he has returned to reclaim his first love, Heavenly Finley (Kristina Johnson). The only problem? She is the daughter of Boss Finley (John Judd), a powerful, corrupt, bigoted politician who practically owns the town, and who still holds a grudge against Chance for sleeping with his daughter (when they were still teenagers). As a result of his anger with Chance, Boss Finley makes it his business to run Chance out of town and makes it clear that if Chance does not leave St. Cloud, he will be castrated.
As the play progresses it becomes clear just how misguided both Alexandra and Chance are. They are so self-absorbed -- Chance so much so that he is unaware that his own mother died, and couldn’t be bothered to pay for a proper funeral -- interested in only their wants and needs, that they frequently go back on promises they make to one another and resort to blackmail to get what they want in that particular moment. Neither appears to have any real regard for the other and no consideration of the potential consequences of their actions. Neither one “needs” someone so much as uses them. Just how recklessly Chance goes through life is also made crystal clear. Despite the warning (or threat), Chance is determined to stay in St. Cloud in order to be with Heavenly once again, hoping to recapture his youth.
I found Sweet Bird of Youth an engaging play with powerful acting with a well-designed set (particularly the projection), but the extremely bright lights that are aimed at the audience coupled with the revolving stage, compete at times with what is actually taking place on-stage, never quite allowing me to forget that what I was watching was a performance.
Sweet Bird of Youth is currently scheduled to run through October 28, 2012 at the Goodman Theatre,170 N. Dearborn St. in Chicago. Post-show discussions with the Goodman's artistic staff take place after Wednesday and Thursday performances. To purchase tickets to Sweet Bird of Youth log onto the Goodman Theatre website, www.goodmantheatre.org, or call the Box Office at 312-443-3800. To learn more about Sweet Bird of Youth, the Goodman Theatre, the 2012-2013 season, special events associated with this or any other production and much more, log onto the theatre’s website, www.goodmantheatre.org.
Photos: Liz Lauren