Tennessee Williams Theater Company does it again with Williams’ rarity, CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL.
Known as the last play Williams produced on Broadway during his lifetime, CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL was commercially panned by critics, ultimately pushing the playwright further down the path of dejection and addiction. However, director Augustin J. Correro’s imaginative powers take Williams’ script and turn it into a physical and visual triumph.
CLOTHES focuses on the turbulent relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, who are infamous as a fragmented couple. The story takes place during a day when Scott visits Zelda at Highland Mental Hospital in Ashville, North Carolina, where she has been interned. Like a piece of memory, like THE GLASS MENAGERIE, the characters examine the past through memory, fantasy, the ghosts that still haunt them and the ghosts they have become.
Along with Williams’ lesser-known plays, TWTC shines in theatrical execution. They have a skill and energy that truly elevates New Orleans theater. And in the small space of the Lower Depths Theater, the fine work of Correro and company cannot be praised enough. The detailed attention and emotional capacity they put into this ghost story that melodramatizes the lives of Zelda and Scott is delightful.
One of the most engaging parts of the play is the relationship between Scott and Zelda. Clouded by the power around the legends that flowed from their names, these public, tumultuous, booze-soaked lives were a playground for Williams, who used it as an outlet for his relationship with his sister Rose.
TWTC newcomer Lauren Wells spares no effort to capture the blood-soaked vitality of Zelda. She has a taste for creating a woman who is often angry, endearing, seductive, and all of this in the same scene. And when she’s in the moment, she’s fully engaged. Definitely a new face to watch out for in future TWTC productions.
Matthew Boese plays a worthy adversary as her husband, Scott. He portrays an unsympathetic figure who desperately needs Zelda while disagreeing with her. Each character grapples with their own plight and failures, resulting in several feuds, such as using Zelda’s life for her novels while preventing her from pursuing a career as a writer. But simultaneously, there are moments of nostalgia that seem to indicate that their relationship was truly deeply in love.
But the quarrels lead Zelda into the arms of a French aviator. For his New Orleans debut, Ben Dougherty plays a triple threat as aviator Edward, Ernest Hemingway and an asylum intern. Dougherty provides strong and sympathetic support as Zelda’s lover, who engages with him on the beach at the French Riviera, while Scott is engrossed in his writer’s diet. When Dougherty takes on the role of Hemingway, we see his true acting reach, going hand in hand with his literary rival (and perhaps something more) in Scott.
Kyle Daigrepont and Mary Langley round out the cast, which has captivated audiences with their various shifting personas, from nuns to biting socialites.
Adding to the action powerhouses is technology, which created haunting visuals for this ghost story. Caige Hirsch’s scenography maximized the scenic space for a drama that alternates between asylum and remembrance of a past. The gates of the asylum were perfectly prescient because their depths belied what was truly beyond them. And separation and intimacy were present during the dance moments between Wells and Dougherty.
Adding to the striking visual effect, Baylee Robertson’s costume designs for the habits worn by the nuns, and Diane K. Baas’ impeccable lighting design, add to the eerie feel. The icing on the cake is undoubtedly Nick Shackleford’s sound design.
CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL runs now until September 24.