A Tennessee Williams Revival: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” Theater Review by Andrea Santo Felcone


A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Kristine Nielsen (Bodey) and Jean Lichty (Dotty). Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

When “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” begins, Dorothea “Dotty” (Jean Lichty), a fit, aging Blanche DuBois-type, is running through her Sunday morning calisthenics. She is trying to busy herself while waiting impatiently for a phone call from her romantic interest–Ralph Ellis. Dotty, played with a deep Southern accent—is also scolding her roommate, Bodey (Kristine Nielsen). Bodey, a stout woman of German-ancestry (Dorothea’s physical antithesis), is not wearing her hearing aid and thus not listening for Dotty’s all-important phone call. (In truth, Ellis never called.) Bodey, for her part, is busy frying up chickens and boiling deviled eggs for a Sunday picnic in Creve Coeur, a lakeside spot in St. Louis.

Bodey is clearly not in favor of Ellis, (the principal of the school where Dotty teaches), especially as Dotty reveals that she has gone so far as to have had an intimate encounter with him in his car. Bodey doesn’t have to remind Dotty that in the day and age they inhabit (the mid-late 1930s) such behavior can have dire consequences for a single woman’s reputation and future. But, nevermind that, there is a desperation to Dotty, as if Ellis is her last chance, and marriage to him a way up the social ladder and out of the lower middle-class efficiency apartment (staged with open walls and cluttered décor) the two women currently share.

Bodey believes her twin brother, Buddy, is the better man for Dotty. (Buddy is never seen on-stage, but is described in very unappealing terms: a beer-swilling, cigar-smoking, thickset man of ill manners.) Although Dotty is not in the least romantically interested in Buddy, Bodey invites him to their Sunday picnics hoping Dotty will change her mind. She believes Buddy will be good for Dotty in the “long run of life.”

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Jean Lichty (Dotty), Annette O’Toole (Helena), Kristine Nielsen (Bodey) and Polly McKie (Miss Gluck). Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” is a story of class distinctions as well as women’s relationships to each other. Bodey is colorful, borderline tacky (she wears a fake flower to conceal her hearing aid; keeps a stuffed bird). Dotty is trying her best to be refined—although it is interesting to note that even “refined” she still carries a big helping of dysfunction to her personality (Tennessee Williams’ specialty). Dotty is a fragile soul, falling apart at the smallest of things, taking to her room for her pills and sherry. Bodey is the maternal caretaker in the relationship. Actually, in all of her relationships, including one with an upstairs neighbor, Miss Gluck, (Polly McKie), a spinster who has just lost her mother. Gluck’s appearances dot the play and are memorable as she wails uncontrollably, or yells out in German. (It would seem there isn’t much to the role, but McKie makes it work.) The character of Bodey, as played by Ms. Nielsen, is interesting in the way she ushers the others along through the world of their own loneliness and sorrow—while concealing her own pain. She is a childless woman who has always wanted children, and hopes her twin brother’s future children will ease the pain.

The debate over Dotty’s love life is interrupted by a visitor—Helena, (Annette O’Toole) a fellow teacher in Dotty’s school. Helena, in Williams’ words, is a “stylishly dressed woman with the eyes of a predatory bird” and O’Toole plays her effectively. She’s judgmental and cold. Helena wants to take Dorothea, as she calls her, away to live with her at a fancier address. The verbal sparring between O’Toole and Nielsen is witty and entertaining and serves as one of the play’s highlights. In a sense, Helena and Bodey are fighting over who gets custody of Dotty—each representing different maternal personas.

We eventually find out why Ellis has never called–and never will (the reason is predictable, but still moves the action along). Things turn in a heartbreaking direction for Dotty and we see why the play bears “Creve Coeur” (French for “heartbreak”) in its title.

In “A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur,” La Femme Theatre Productions’ all-female cast hands in excellent performances. This lesser-known work of Tennessee Williams serves as a welcome reminder of his skill as a playwright (tragedy mixed with comedy). Lichty’s accent takes a bit of time to understand and there is one scene (after the “pills and sherry”) that is ultimately too difficult to decipher. That aside, the performances on the whole are engaging and the play lingers in the mind long after the telling.

Runs through October 21. Running time: 1 hr. 45 mins. No intermission.

Theatre at St. Clements: 423 West 46th Street, NYC. Tickets are $55 – $99 and can be purchased by visiting: www.LaFemmeTheatreProductions.org or by calling (866) 811-4111.

Cast:

Dorothea/Dotty: Jean Lichty

Bodey: Kristine Nielsen

Helena: Annette O’Toole

Miss Gluck: Polly McKie

Directed by: Austin Pendleton

Scenic & Lighting Design: Harry Feiner; Costume Design: Beth Goldenberg;

Music and Sound: Ryan Rumery

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