INTERVIEW: Sweet Bird of Youth – now extended to Jan 16!

        
        

Sex and Power in Artistic Home’s ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’

 

chanceprincesssmoking

Just how shocking was Tennessee William’s Sweet Bird of Youth to the average American in 1959? It certainly titillated New York audiences, as well as secured 3 Tony awards and an adaptation to the screen in 1962, with leads Paul Newman and Geraldine Page from the original production. The movie itself offers only expurgated Williams—no explicit mention of racism, syphilis, or castration. Thank goodness, The Artistic Home’s production recalls us to the play’s lusty roots and its lyrical interrogation of the psychology of desperation that leads to corruption (see our review here ★★★½.)

Sweet Bird of Youth may be William’s most political drama, slamming Southern racism and the South’s campaigns against desegregation during this era. Plus, he shows no end of contempt toward the moralizing hypocrisy that keeps corruption in place and blights all kinds of youthful promise. But we wanted to look at the sexual politics inherent in the text and the chanceprincessdiagonal_thumbunderlying constructions of youth, beauty, age, money and fame that mold the relationship between gigolo Chance Wayne (Josh Odor) and his aging actress sugar-momma, Alexandra del Lago (Kathy Scambiatterra). Who’s using whom, who really has the upper hand, and is their any hope for human interaction between these two demoralized sexual partners?

One warning: I commit a little faux pas at the end of the video. Going into the interview, I believed that Director Dale Calandra and actor Frank Nall, who plays Boss Finley, would be joining us for a second 15-minute segment. But Dale was knocked out by a fierce fever and Frank couldn’t get away from his construction job. Something about being stuck on a scaffold three stories up—and in some nasty, windy weather. We hope both are okay. Get well, Dale!

In the interview I talk with the Sweet Bird leads – Kathy Scambiattera (sugar-momma Alexandra de Lago) and Josh Odor (gigolo Chance Wayne).  Enjoy!!

 

        
        

REVIEW:Sweet Bird of Youth (Artistic Home) now thru Jan16!

Update: Due to sold-out houses, now extended thru Jan 16th!

When Monster meets Monster

ChancePrincessdiagonal

   
The Artistic Home presents
   
Sweet Bird of Youth
   
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Dale Calandra
at Artistic Home Theatre, 3914 N. Clark (map)
through Nov 28  |  tickets: $20-$28  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

A waiter I once worked with would, from time to time, show up on the job in a t-shirt reading, “Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.” That could be the working subtitle for Tennessee WilliamsSweet Bird of Youth, now onstage at The Artistic Home under the direction of Dale Calandra. Williams’ famed gigolo, Chance Wayne (Josh Odor), is no match for the wizened, tougher, and connected oldsters surrounding him. Wanted for his masculine beauty, Chance has tried to parlay his charm and sex appeal into lasting fame and fortune, sacrificing over time his young love, Heavenly (Elizabeth Argus), in the process. Chance returns to his hometown of St. Cloud in the company of an aging, incognito actress to try and wrest Heavenly from the control of her father—his nemesis—the oily Southern politician Boss Finley (Frank Nall).

Chancealone But Sweet Bird of Youth is more about the sordid, compromised relationship between Chance and Princess Kosmonopolis (Kathy Scambiatterra) than about any hope of a future for two separated young lovers. The Princess, or rather, Alexandra Del Lago, is Chances’ last way out of his poor background into a life of luxury. But it’s a way out that can only happen under certain sexploitative conditions. Their affair is a cramped hothouse world in which people can only use and be used. As for Heavenly, she can only be used by her father in his political campaign against desegregation, under the pretense defending the purity of Southern youth against the mixing of the races.

However, neither Heavenly nor Chance is pure anymore. Much about their corrupt, classist environment has blighted their youth. Calandra’s organic direction instinctively draws out Williams’ political intentions. One is never hammered over the head with them but allowed to see them as part of the interplay among the rest of Williams’ themes. In Boss Finley’s quasi-religious belief in his racist mission, one sees shades of Glenn Beck, as well as Bristol and Sarah Palin. One sees Tea Partiers in the young men rallied to his campaign by the Boss’s son, Tom Junior (Tim Musachio). In fact one sees shades of W. in Tom Junior–quite an unnerving thing.

But rest assured, the Artistic Home’s production is not one big political deconstruction. True to Williams’ intent, the cast brings out all the sex, wit, and poetry crammed into the script. The opening scene alone casts Odor in a silhouette reminiscent of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen. Odor’s Chance sulks his way into sexiness—a completely different take on the role from Newman. Here one senses a man very cognizant of the clock ticking on his last desperate bid to make his dreams come true. Scambiatterra is simply an acting marvel. Her comic timing is impeccable in this deeply witty, high-maintenance-has-been-turned-comeback role. The very sound of her gravelly voice grounds Williams’ heightened, poetic language to realist perfection.

That leaves the other oldster, Frank Nall (Boss Finley) to solidly set the third pillar of this production. Nall has all the nuances of his corrupt Southern politician down pat–all the Boss’s patriarchal ChancePrincesspurplecontrol, bigotry, possessive affection, humor and hypocrisy he delivers in a performance as natural and perfectly tailored as the Boss’s nice white suit. Nuanced touches from the rest of the cast set the right mood and tone, but there is nothing like a good villain for the hero to go up against.

“When monster meets monster, one monster has to give way,” says Alexandra, as she spars with Chance in their hotel room. No matter how hard Chance tries to manipulate the situation, he is always giving way. To a certain degree he cannot accept the compromised soul he has become. The other monsters, particularly the older ones, have learned that this is what they are now. The lovely past, with all its fresh promise and innocent potential, cannot be retrieved. Mike Mroch’s snow white set design establishes the Easter Sunday sanctity into which Chance and the Princess intrude with their queer quarrels and decadent life together. But Jeff Glass’s lighting design of lurid reds and blues soon make it clear that they belong here at this monster’s ball. They belong in St. Cloud with all the other monsters. Let the Heckler (Keith Neagle) tell that to the Boss.

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

ChancePrincessSmoking

     
     

Continue reading