Vieux Carre | Itch ProductionsLeft – Thomas Blackburne, Des Fleming and Samantha Murray. Cover – Thomas Blackburne. Photos – Justin Kane

Tennessee Williams is arguably one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th Century, whose works are well documented as being very personal and based on those who were close to him. 
Vieux Carre is a very early piece of writing that dates back to 1938, when the young, naive Wiliams moved to New Orleans after leaving St Louis. What is now regarded as a very autobiographical play, Vieux Carre was not completed until nearly forty years later.

While not a great piece of writing, it is a remarkably interesting one. The original Broadway production opened in 1977, but closed after playing only five performances and eleven previews.
In the play a young man (who is nameless, and played by Thomas Blackburne), arrives at a run-down boarding house in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans (now more commonly known as the French Quarter) run by a demented landlady Mrs Wire (Kelly Nash).
The assorted tenants, who are all battling personal demons include an alcoholic, lecherous painter, Nightingale (Stephen Whittaker) and a dying young woman, Jane Sparks (Samantha Murray) who shares her room with her sexually ambiguous lover, Tye (Des Fleming). There are a number of other characters that add to the tensions.
During the two acts a few secrets are revealed as the writer comes to accept his sexual identity, while observing and interacting with his close neighbours.
The constant themes of Williams' works is seen very clearly in Vieux Carre. The women are mostly very strongly written, but all lead quite tragic existances. The men are largely drug or alcohol dependent.  
The use and discussion of drugs is actually quite amazing given the time period that this play originated from. The open discussions about homosexuality and the underlying sexual tensions are also unusual for a play that dates back to a period when so much was unsaid.   

I suppose that this is really the strength both of the piece and of this very ambitious production. Given that there are up to ten actors on stage as well as a musician, which adds great value to the mood and location of the play, this could not have been an easy task for director, Alice Bishop
The staging is well handled on the large set, which outlines different rooms in the house. But perhaps more time needed to be given to the actors. While performances are generally good, a wide choice of styles is displayed, with some performances almost over-powering some scenes.
The strongest performances come from Kelly Nash and Samantha Murray. Murray in particular manages to bring much light and shade to her performance and probably gives the audience the most rounded character.
Stephen Whittaker is very good as the painter who is fast going down-hill, but one is left feeling that this should have been even more camp in the earlier scenes, especially when he is flaunting his sexuality.
This production is already receiving a lot of attention, and judging by the crossover audience is not only of interest to Melbourne's gay community (being part of the Midsumma Festival). This is a good thing, as the play has an historical significance as the forerunner to much greater writing.   

ITCH Productions presents
Vieux Carré
by Tennessee Williams

Director Alice Bishop

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 17 January – 3 February 2013
Tickets: $40 – $35 Concession
Bookings: |

Part of Midsumma 2013

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