Michael Oakley seems to have the right touch for finding forgotten plays by renowned playwrights. His production of Terence Rattigan’s Variation on a Theme at the Finborough Theatre was a big success. His latest rediscovery is a rarely performed play by Tennessee Williams – A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur.
Although written in the late 1970s, Williams’ play takes us back to 1930s St. Louis. Dorothea, a school teacher, is sharing an apartment with middle-aged German-American Bodey. It is a hot day in June and Dorothea completes her rigorous exercise regimen to keep her body in shape for the man she loves – Ralph Ellis. She is desperately expecting his call. Her roommate Bodey is busy working in the kitchen, frying chicken for a picnic at Creve Coeur with her twin brother Buddy. Bodey is still hopeful that Dorothea will see beyond the beer guzzling, sausage munching, cigar chomping exterior and detect Buddy’s qualities. Upstairs neighbour Miss Gluck, a dowdy woman of indefinable age, suffers from depression after her mother’s passing and keeps stopping by at the most inconvenient times, such as when Dorothea’s snobbish colleague Helena arrives, who is so appalled by Miss Gluck’s appearance that she immediately locks her out. The stylish Helena soon clashes with the homely Bodey, whom she considers beneath her, as she keeps on commenting on the tackiness and tastelessness of Bodey’s apartment, completely unsuitable for a fine young lady as Dorothea.
Featuring an all-female cast, neither Buddy nor Ralph ever make an appearance, the play focuses on the rather limited role of women in society and their fear of loneliness, embodied by Miss Gluck. Dorothea (Laura Rogers) is a fragile Southern Belle with an immature crush on her principal Ralph Ellis, a rather unglamorous position for a society boy. Time is running out and he seems like her last best hope to find love and romance. Yet the attractive young man has his own agenda which does not necessarily involve a civics teacher. Bodey (Debbie Chazen) is a rather frumpy, pragmatic middle-aged woman, rushing around Dorothea like a mother hen. Bodey knows that she will never have a family and therefore she wants Dorothea to marry her twin brother so she can live through her and her children. But Bodey’s motives are not always selfish as she takes care of the unappealing Miss Gluck (Julia Watson), who is so depressed that she cannot even make herself a cup of coffee. The snooty Helena (Hermione Gulliford) sees Dorothea as a suitable companion who will help her defeat loneliness and share the costs of her expensive apartment.
Michael Oakley’s production is well acted and discusses important issues. Yet the play seems like a light version of the playwright’s masterpieces. Although it features strong female roles, the story is rather thin and predictable and it appears as if Tennessee Williams is satirising his own work. Interrupting the narrative with broad farce, usually involving Miss Gluck’s strange behaviour and unseemly appearance or Bodey’s hearing aid, does little for the story.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
A Lovely Day for Creve Coeur is playing at the Print Room until 7th October 2016