Sweet Bird of Youth
Irish Classical Theatre Company
by Anthony Chase
One of the great plays of the Tennessee Williams oeuvre, Sweet Bird of Youth follows the efforts of Chance Wayne, once the bright star of his generation in 1950s St. Cloud, Florida, to be reunited with the girl he loves.
Chance has returned to town in the company of movie star Alexandra Del Lago, convinced that this esteemed company and a movie contract in hand will, finally, impress the girl’s father, the most powerful political boss in town. Now approaching 30, Chance is unaware that in his absence, his status in this corrupt little town has gone from deplorable to hopeless. His mother has died, and had been buried by charity. His girl, Heavenly, has sustained a surgery that has left her barren, a consequence of a disease she had caught from Chance. His current employ, as a gigolo to an aging movie star is unlikely to be viewed favorably by anyone. Heavenly’s father, Boss Finley, wants him castrated. (Really!)
The Irish Classical production, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti with Patrick Cameron as Chance Wayne and Aleks Malejs as Alexandra Del Lago is highly satisfying. A first rate acting ensemble explores the desires and contradictions of these characters with clarity and focus.
Cameron is especially affecting as Chance, a young man who does not understand that the corruption of his past cannot be undone. As Heavenly, played by Renee Landrigan, so eloquently observes, the right doors would not open for Chance, and so he went through the wrong ones. Malejs, who has impeccable technique and the stage presence of a true leading lady, gets great mileage out of Alexandra’s delicious contradictions, her hard as nails drive and crippling vulnerabilities.
Landrigan is very good as innocent and ethereal Heavenly Finley, establishing a distinct contrast with Malejs’ hardened Alexandra.
The production highlights an exquisite divide in the script, whereby the women can still see the former innocence and promise in Chance Wayne, even in his corrupted state. Heavenly, Aunt Nonnie, even Miss Lucy and Alexandra try to save him. As in all great tragedies, it will be impossible.
Bethany Sparacio is fabulous as Finley’s kept woman, Miss Lucy, as is Colleen Gaughan as Aunt Nonnie, creating endearing but conflicted women who contrast with each other as do Heavenly and Alexandra.
Stan Klimecko, who seems to specialize in monstrous characters of American post-war realism, creates a particularly vivid Boss Finley.
Visually, the production seems to have shifted gears at some point, and still bears the remnants of an expressionistic staging with video projections by Brian Milbrand. I found these to be merely distracting, not enriching as in a similar treatment of another Tennessee Williams classic, Streetcar Named Desire at Torn Space Theater. Costumes by Dixon Reynolds are excellent as is light by Brian Cavanagh and sound by Tom Makar. Kenneth Shaw has done the set.