Review: The Tennessee Williams Play You Never Heard of Brought to Life by Theatre L’Acadie

Emily Daigle as Clare and Daniel Westheimer as Felice. Photo by Kaitlin Eve Romero. 

It’s always a treat to see a Tennessee Williams play, whether it’s a familiar story like The Glass Menagerie, or a rarely performed play like Not About Nightingales. Theatre L’Acadie brings us a look at a TW rarity: The Two Character Play, featuring two actors who are deserted by their theater troupe in some unidentified country.

The story takes place backstage, where they are surrounded by pieces of scenery, furniture and props. The two actors are siblings, Felice (Daniel Westheimer) and Clare (Emily Daigle), and they share a traumatic family history: a brutal ending for their parents. They find themselves locked into the theater building, overnight or longer. Clare wants to go home, but the tour is never-ending (sort of like a Bob Dylan tour).

Directed by Kaitlin Eve Romero, this sweet, quirky play—and the play within a play—is an exercise in blending reality and fiction. You are not always sure which part you are in. The play seems to be a refuge for Felice, the actor/playwright and company manager, who is concerned about his drug-addled diva sister. (There are autobiographical elements here, as there are in most of Williams’ plays. Felice is Williams as caring brother, and Clare may represent his emotionally damaged sister Rose, who was often hospitalized for nervous and emotional problems and underwent a lobotomy at age 28.)

Photo by Kaitlin Eve Romero. 

Despite these emotional health issues, the two actors are well matched in size, presence and vocal power. They are neither young nor old; they are or were attractive. Clare’s appearance was once probably elegant, but is now ragged and disheveled; her tiara is missing a few stones. Felice is wearing partial makeup and pieces of costumes, including a shirt bearing an astrological chart.

The progress of the play or its place in the life of the two actors and their characters is not always clear. They are actors and they want to perform but the rest of the troupe is gone, so they are able to perform only The Two Character Play. The plotline is sometimes confusing but the language is poetic and you can allow yourself to relax into it.

The audience is assembling for tonight’s performance and Clare goes to the front of the stage to peek out at them. Felice stops her. “You will not, you must never look at an audience before a performance. It makes you play self-consciously, you don’t get lost in the play.” She turns and asks, “Are you going to throw new speeches at me tonight?”He responds, “Tonight there’ll have to be a lot of improvisation, but if we’re both lost in the play, the bits of improvisation won’t matter at all, in fact they may make the play better.”

Finally Clare says, “You are suggesting that we….?” And Felice responds, “Go back into the play.” And they step to the front of the stage, now in character.

Clare: Do we start at the top of the play?
Felice: With your phone bit, yes.
The performance commences!

Photo by Kaitlin Eve Romero. 

Williams said this play was “my most beautiful play since Streetcar, and I’ve never stopped working on it…. The very heart of my life.” It’s considered one of Williams’ experimental plays, as he was exploring changes in his writing style. It was first performed in London in 1967 and an alternate version, titled Out Cry, was presented at the Ivanhoe Theatre  in Chicago in July 1971.

Set design is by Brandii Champagne with lighting by Maggie Martin and costumes by Emily Daigle.

The Two Character Play by Theatre L’Acadie continues at the Athenaeum, 2936 N. Southport, through March 29. Check to be sure it has not been canceled, as many theaters have recently announced closings and cancellations of current and coming plays. Tickets are $25 for performances Wednesday-Sunday. Running time is about 105 minutes including an intermission.

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