For its highly anticipated season opener, Goodman Theatre presents SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, a classic Southern drama by Tennessee Williams. Chance has returned to his hometown for Heavenly, his childhood sweetheart. The problem is her mob-boss father hates him. And the entire town works for Boss. But this time, Chance has concocted a plan to finally get his girl. It involves a movie star, illegal substance and extortion. Chance has left his cabana boy job to provide full servicing to Princess Kosmonopolis aka Alexandra Del Lago. The Princess is a famous actress on a bender. She is consuming whatever she needs to forget: oxygen, vodka, pot, pills, Chance. Their relationship is self-serving delusions of grandeur. SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH commits to the grandeur but loses some of the humanity.
From curtains up or more accurately ‘curtain across’, Set and Costume Designer James Schuette captivates. Schuette uses a sheer, white flourishing drape to unveil the posh, elegant hotel suite. It’s a lovely spectacle. All the sets and costumes showcase a stylish 50s vibe. This show is just pretty to look at…. maybe too pretty. Director David Cromer stages it with pomp and circumstances. Conversations are prolonged as actors stroll along the revolving stage. It feels affected. The spinning set-up of a televised press conference on one side and the swanky hotel bar is a lot of luster for a small town like St. Cloud. It’s all very glam so the disparity of a partying celeb inhabiting a room is less of an oddity.
Contrast continues to be my issue with this show. There doesn’t seem to be a huge age differential between the exquisite Diane Lane (Princess) and the studly Josh Brolin-type Finn Wittrock (Chance). Lane looks too young for the part… probably too pretty. Instead of feeling sorry for Lane’s lost youth, I’m impressed with her preservation and want to know her beauty secrets. She plays it less boozy-diva-has-been and more, crazy movie star. Lane is at her best with a bittersweet soliloquy at her dressing table. But, Wittrock just doesn’t emotionally connect with me. His delivery feels stilted. He’s got the grandiose, intoxication down. I just don’t see a man desperate to recover his past, his youth, his love. The rest of the large cast provides solid support to the story, especially, a fiercely commanding John Judd (Boss), a sassy vengeful Jennifer Engstrom (Miss Lucy) and a timidly hopeful Penny Slusher (Aunt Nonnie).
SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH is a real looker for the sheer pageantry. It just doesn’t resonate with true grit. This is definitely the prettiest Tennessee Williams’ play that I’ve ever seen.
Running Time: Three hours includes two intermissions
At Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by David Cromer
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm
Thru October 28th
But Tickets at www.goodmantheatre.org