(Recommended) It is not often that Chicago theater audiences are treated to Tennessee Williams classic plays, and this season we have two running at the same time; Raven Theatre’s smart production of “Cat on A Hot Tin Roof” at The Raven of course and now The Artistic Home’s strong production of “Sweet Bird of Youth” at their home in Wrigleyville. This is a rarely done play and one that is familiar to those who have followed the career of the late Paul Newman, who truly hit his shining star with this play. He and co-star Geraldine Page went from Broadway to Hollywood and as the saying goes, for Paul Newman, the rest is history! Artistic Home is a small, storefront theater with a very intimate feeling, so in many cases, they are somewhat limited in what they can do, but director Dale Calandra and set designer Mike Mroch made it work, perfectly.
The story is about time, or rather the sands of time and aging. The play takes place in the south, in a small town ( St. Cloud) on the Gulf Coast. Since the play was first performed in the late 50’s, early 60’s, it would be okay to call it that time period as racial tensions still were high all over the south. Chance Wayne ( a brilliant performance by Josh Odor) is a hometown boy who left town because Boss Finley ( Frank Nall) wanted him gone, who wants to return to get his lost love, Heavenly Finley ( the charming Elizabeth Argus), and take her out of this environment. His companion is an aging movie tar, who goes under the name of Princess Kosmonopolis ( played to perfection by Kathy Scambiatterra) who is trying to stage a comeback in order to regain her lost stardom and youth. It seems that they are both using each other to assist in regaining what they had in their youth.
They arrive in St. Cloud on Easter weekend- Chance to reclaim his first love and the Princess along for the ride as she heads west. Chance has an agreement that she signed that she will back him in one of her studios movies. To obtain this, he has been her “escort”, driver and “lover”. She is lonely and bitter about her aging and losing what as hers and by surrounding herself with young lovers, feels a tinge of what she had in the past. There is trouble in St. Cloud, as Boss, who pretty much owns the town ( oil business) has just had a Black man castrated for making advances at a white woman ( to set the tone) and his daughter,Heavenly has evidently had a surgical procedure that will make her childless forever, for which Chance is blamed. The tensions are high and although Chance has good intentions and truly loves Heavenly, over this long 24 hours, he is forced to look at the truth of the past- lost innocence , one gone, will never be reborn and the regrets that one has over past mistakes of judgement will live on forever. As we age, we all look back at our pasts- some asking themselves, if I had it all to do again, would I do it the same way? The truth is, probably yes! When we are young, we tend to let our actions speak for us and when we look back, we realize that at the time, we thought what we did was right, so yes, we probably would do it just the same and regret it for the rest of our lives.
Calandra uses the small stage and his cast to their best- each member of the ensemble, no matter the size of the role they play is important to a Williams story. When someone has a line to say, it is part of the overall story and thus important to the totality of the production, so in a Tennessee Williams play, each character has significance to the total picture he is painting with his words. Calandra has taken those words and converted them into actions to make the picture complete. To make this happen, actors, Brandon Boler, C. Sean Piereman, Tim Musachio, Lynne Hall, Sean Murphy, Kristin Collins , Keith Neagle, Brennam Roach and Miguel Cohen take on their roles with the importance that Williams gave them.
“Sweet Bird of Youth” is a little over two hours ( with an intermission) and will continue at The Artistic Home located t 3914 N. Clark Street through November 28th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. , Sundays at 3 p.m.
Ticket prices are $28 ( open seating) . on Sunday and Thursday , students and seniors pay only $20
Rush tickets are available for 50% off on Thursdays, right before curtain, so if you are a gambler on Thursday , you might just get in for $14, but $28 is a great price for theater of this quality.
There is parking on Clark Street and the theater is easy to reach by bus- NOTE: there is some male nudity and language, so please be aware that this production is really for mature audiences.