Saturday, 13 July 2013

Tennessee Williams's SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH at the Old Vic and Daniel Radcliffe in Martin McDonagh's THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN

     I put my comments on these two revivals in the same entry in part because I saw them on the same day. Both are star vehicles -- for Kim Cattrall in the Williams play and Daniel Radcliffe in the McDonagh. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH is always worth reviving with a cast worthy of its poetry. THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN is a mean spirited piece of fluff that is best forgotten.
     In SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, Williams has given us two of his most complex characters. Alexandra del Lago, the aging movie star who is also the Princess Kosmonopolis contains more than a touch of autobiography. After seeing her aging self on the silver screen, she is on the run from the inevitability of age and mortality. A hypochondriac with a treasure chest of drugs and an oxygen tank she, like many Williams characters, uses sex to forget her age. She has picked up twenty-nine year old Chance Wayne, who is obsessed with reviving his relationship with his teenage lover, Heavenly. Getting Heavenly back will restore his youth and innocence. Chance is persona non grata in his home town after infecting Heavenly with a venereal disease. Now branded as a "criminal degenerate" and threatened with castration by Heavenly's father, a version of the racist Mississippi governor Ross Barnett. Chance ruthlessly uses the Princess to try to get to Heavenly.
     Alexandra del Lago is a self-proclaimed "Monster" in a world of monsters. She is a grand character, worthy of a diva performance. Kim Cattrall gave it a game try, but she simply wasn't enough of a monster. There aren't enough notes in her voice, not enough desperation in her manner. She was too safe, too tame. It was a game try, but she's not a big enough actress to play this kind of role. Seth Numrich had more success with Chance. People think of plays like CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH as being vehicles for actresses, but in both plays the male character is the focal -- and longer -- role. Chance is onstage more than the Princess and the play is really his story. At the same time, he is far from a totally sympathetic character. He's is so single-minded in his totally unrealistic obsession with Heavenly that everyone else is treated with disdain. He wants to be in control, but isn't enough of a monster to win. Where Cattrall was playing it safe, Numrich was constantly taking risks. Chance is a typical character in modern American literature, the dreamer who is also a loser. Numrich managed to make us care about Chance while watching his insensitivity and inevitable defeat.
     Marianne Elliott's production broke no new ground, but was perfectly competent. After seeing her brilliant production of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME the previous evening, I was surprised at how traditional this production was. The large supporting cast was fine, but except for Numrich's performance, this BIRD never quite took flight.
     At least SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH is a play worth reviving. I can't say the same for THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. If you like laughing at the antics of stupid, cruel people, you might like spending two and a half hours watching them. There's not much else you can say about this nasty piece of fluff. Daniel Radcliffe was touching as the cripple who is the butt of many of the cruel jokes -- when you could hear him. A the end, he gets to kiss the girl he has a crush on, but she's a sociopath so it's hardly a happy moment. I found the first act tedious and during the second act I just got increasingly infuriated at the characters and at having paid money to watch them. The play is a pointless exercise, which makes the nastiness all the more gratuitous.
SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. Old Vic Theatre. July 3, 2013
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. Noel Coward Theatre. July 3, 2013.

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