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A CurtainUp Review

Something Cloudy, Something Clear
By Les Gutman

There's a coeval quality to events as one gets older.
The past and present begin to merge.

---Tennessee Williams,
in a New York Times interview at the time of the
premiere of Something Cloudy, Something Clear

C. Vinton and S. Klassen
(Photo: Anatole Fourmantchouk)
If there is a singular prevailing theme in Tennessee Williams' plays, one might say that it is the deteriorating effect of the passage of time on a person's seemingly desirable qualities. It has been observed that, ironically perhaps, the playwright personified his own idea. For two decades, the 40's and 50's, he enjoyed almost nothing but success without equal; over the succeeding two, he was confronted with failure after failure.

Something Cloudy, Something Clear is Williams' under-appreciated examination of that forty year arc, a cascading look back from the early 80's to the "pivotal summer when [he] took a crash course in growing up". It is a memory play, focused on the period just before his emergence as a great playwright, written with dreamlike qualities from the vantage point of a time when he was sadly but fully aware of the "declivity of [his] reputation".

There is a phrase in this, his last play, that is repeated several times: "exigencies of desperation". Were one to publish a thick, unedited volume containing all of Williams writings, what better title would sum it up? For Williams wrote not so much because he wanted to, but because he had to. From the same 1981 interview by Michiko Kakutani referenced above: "to me it has been... a great act of providence that I was able to turn my borderline psychosis into creativity."

In a Provincetown shack in which he is squatting, the playwright's surrogate, August (Stass Klassen), is hard at work on rewrites for the script that will become his Broadway debut [The Glass Menagerie]. Though he is awaiting a visit from his producers, the Fiddlers (Richard Guerreiro and Chandler Vinton) [Lawrence Langer and his wife], with whom he will have to negotiate for both money and artistic integrity, he is diverted by an affair with a young dancer, Kip (understudy Joe Mihalchick), who is traveling with a young woman named Clare (Elissa Piszel). [The affair is real, and as in the play Kip is a Canadian draft dodger who has a brain tumor, though it's not clear if Clare is rooted in reality.] All of them have something to be desperate about.

The plays shifts back and forth from past to present, also including scenes with other key figures in the playwright's life: his longtime lover, Frank (also Mihalchick) [Frank Merlo], an actress, Caroline (Piszel) [Miriam Hopkins] and another actress, unnamed here (Vinton) [Tallulah Bankhead]. Also on display is Williams' liberal use of multi-layered metaphor, the title itself representing not only the playwright's glaucoma-shielded vision, but his memory and the weather as well.

Though the play itself is well worth the time and attention of audiences and especially Williams aficionados, this production is extremely disappointing. Mr. Fourmantchouk's direction is is hyperactive and muddled -- far more cloudy than clear -- and overlays a heavy dose of unnecessary artsy-ness on a play that is best appreciated in its raw form. The troubles are compounded by Mr. Klassen, whose thick Russian accent makes much of the dialogue unintelligible, and other actors who simply lack a command of the script and its meaning. Ms. Piszel's delivery is especially flat. Other performances are somewhat better (Ms. Vinton in four roles, Mr. Guerreiro in three).

This is said to be the first revival in New York of this play, and the first time it has been performed uncensored (there is some profanity, some full-frontal nudity as well as Williams' frank consideration of his own sex life). Let's hope this effort spawns a more revelatory presentation without making us wait another twenty years.

CurtainUp's Tennessee Williams Playwright's Album
Suddenly Last Summer
The Notebook of Trigorin
A Streetcar Named Desire
Tiger's Tail
Camino Real
Small Craft Warnings. . .second review
Tennessee Williams Remembered (book)
Not About Nightingales in London and New York
The Glass Menagerie
Adjoining Trances (about Williams and Carson McCullers)
Sweet Bird of Young (Background)
Something Cloudy, Something Clear (paperback edition)

Something Cloudy, Something Clear
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Anatole Fourmantchouk
with Stass Klassen, Richard Guerreiro, Omar Sadigh (understudy Joe Mihalchick seen at the reviewed performance), Elissa Piszel and Chandler Vinton
Set and Costume Design: Natalie Rudyuk
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including 1 intermission
A production of New York Art Theatre
Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street (9/10 Avs)
Telephone (212) 307 - 4100
Opening September 20, 2001, closing date not announced
TUES - SAT @8, SAT @2, SUN @3; $50
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 9/21/01 performance

The Broadway Theatre Archive


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