"Faggots! They all do something artistic!" Those words from Tennessee Williams' Vieux Carré are echoed in the productions of The Fourth Unity, a co-operative of artists dedicated to promoting excellence in gay theater. Last season, the group staged Edwin Sanchez's The Road and David Pumo's Love Scenes, and produced a festival of new gay plays and playwrights. To open its current season, The Fourth Unity honors Tennessee Williams with a compelling, faithful staging of his seldom-produced drama Vieux Carré.
Williams' last play on Broadway in his lifetime, Vieux Carré focuses on the disparate inhabitants of a single building in New Orleans' colorful French Quarter--722 Toulouse Street. The dark, poetic story connects the lost lives of several boarding house tenants: a desperately lonely painter, a sexually confused writer, a pair of old ladies who scour garbage bins for leftovers, a strip-show gigolo, a displaced fashion designer with an unnamed disease, and an overworked housekeeper.
Highly autobiographical, Vieux Carré is Williams' literary precursor to VH-1's Behind the Music. "I don't allow no trashy behavior!" insists Mrs.Wire (Courtenay Wendell), the building's senile proprietor. Naturally, the rooms of this boarding house are filled with more "trashy behavior" than an episode of Knots Landing. Each scene features some combination of gross indecencies, drugs, alcohol, fornication, prostitution, rape, and homosexuality.
Set in 1938, the script frequently identifies the characters by their scandalous addictions rather than their personalities. Director Dennis Smith does a remarkable job at bridging the playwright's worlds of fiction and reality. Likewise, the polished cast, nicely led by Moe Bertan as The Writer, succeeds at discovering the three-dimensional characters hiding within Williams' overly descriptive prose.
None of the residents of 722 Toulouse is there by choice. "A sudden change of circumstance removed me from what I thought was myself," cries the young fashion designer (Erica Veit in a concise performance) as she attempts to explain how she ended up in the boarding house with an abusive, alcoholic lover (strongly played by Ivan Davila).