A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is a tough play to produce, and for that reason most theaters leave it alone. Williams wrote it in 1979, four years before his death, and like many of his later pieces, it studies character across a limited event horizon. Notwithstanding the work’s challenges, Quotidian Theatre Company delivers an excellent production notable for the sparkling quality of the performances.
Dotty Gallaway (Michele Osherow) rooms with Bodey Bodenhafer (Erika Imhoof) in a cheap, cramped apartment close to the school where she teaches. Although Bodey has designs for Dotty and Bodey’s overweight, beer-guzzling, cigar smoking twin brother, Buddy, Dotty has other ideas. She has been secretly seduced by her school principal, socialite T. Ralph Ellis, and has given herself “not just freely, but with abandon.” Without telling Bodey, she plans to move out of their tight living quarters and into an affluent apartment in a fashionable neighborhood with fellow teacher, Helena Brookmire (Stephanie Mumford). Dotty plans to entertain Mr. Ellis in the new apartment in the hopes of encouraging him to propose to her little knowing that these hopes are in vain. When Helena comes by to collect the deposit for the new apartment, she confronts the unsuspecting Bodey, and thereafter peppers her with highbrow barbs and sarcastic asides. They are periodically interrupted by Sophie Gluck (Malinda Lee Ellerman), a recently bereaved neighbor who speaks no English.
Without the strong cast that director Jack Sbarbori has assembled, this study in loneliness could be tedious. Fortunately, this cast imbues the characters with dignity, pathos and charisma, and the result is gripping. Imhoof’s rendering of Bodie – plain, a little lost – endears her to the audience. She gives Bodie a slight mid-Western accent, a mobile face and a varied delivery, and ten minutes into the production it appears that it is not Imhoof but Bodie herself who is on stage. But at the end of the show Imhoof, as herself, makes an announcement for the company, and you can see that she is quite a different person indeed.
Stephanie Mumford seems to be laboring under a cold; she manages to make the illness work for her. Her condescending and arrogant Helena sounds even more pretentious than the lines require, with her raspy hoarse voice and disdainful coughs. The grating conflict between these two women kept the show interesting. Michele Osherow as Dotty is appropriately pitiable as a victim unaware that she has been victimized. She makes an excellent foil against both Bodie and Helena, and is essential in tying all of the plot elements together. It is easy to overlook the small part of Sophie Gluck, the upstairs neighbor, but Malinda Lee Ellerman delivers a wonderful performance with such an outstanding mix of body language, facial expression and intonation. She adds some welcome comedy and truly adds character to the off-key atmosphere of the quaint apartment.
Sbarbori, who has directed this play before, shows his experienced hand by keeping the scenes interesting and fresh. With many static two-person scenes, the show could become monotonous, but Sbarbori keeps the actresses engaged with naturalistic blocking and business. Helena moves about the small room cringing at the clashing interior decoration. It seems she is trying to move away from the more distasteful parts of the room only to realize that there aren’t any. Bodie moves with the nervous energy of an animal being driven from the comfort of her den. Sophie doesn’t move much, but when she does, she does so with an awkward child-like lack of grace which always manages to put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sbarbori is also the set designer and does an amazing job creating the cramped apartment complete with its atrocious decoration, some of which matches the description in the lines painfully well. The tiny apartment has an inset interior room with the missing wall, giving a wonderful confined feeling to the whole set.
This production is a rare treat: one of the lesser known and produced plays from one of America’s greatest playwrights. As far as I am concerned, every day is a lovely day for this Creve Coeur.
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jack Sbarbori
Produced by Quotidian Theatre Company
Reviewed by Ted Ying
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur runs thru Aug 8, 2010.
For details, directions and tickets, click here.
A LOVELY SUNDAY AT CREVE COUER
Barbara MacKay . DCExaminer