The Wooster Group, in the wake of stimulating previous visits to the downtown Redcat space, is less than scintillating in applying its patented blend of found-object rubbish and video art to Tennessee Williams’ “Vieux Carre.” A memory-based sequel of sorts to “The Glass Menagerie,” the 1978 text isn’t nearly as interesting, but deserves better than this overintellectualized, underpercolated deconstruction marshaled by Group leader Elizabeth LeCompte.
For all intents and purposes, 722 Toulouse St., French Quarter, New Orleans was first stop on life’s weary Camino Real for both author and alter ego Tom Wingfield, as he slammed out of his mother and sister’s lives to explore his late-arriving artistic and sexual awareness.
Here, merely dubbed “the Writer” (Ari Fliakos), he occupies sweaty nights on an attic cot, feverishly scribbling observations of a scraggly passing parade or, as actor Charles Butterworth once said of Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life,” the boarding house’s “habitues and sons-of-habitues.”
In Wooster style the character’s output is typed — or rather, hamfisted — on a computer keyboard. But he can hardly have much to write about, since Fliakos mostly lounges disconnectedly across a filthy black platform, looking as if he’s wondering where he put his keys. (It can’t be in his pants pocket, because he’s restricted to a black leather jockstrap much of the time.)
The year 2010 has already brought to L.A. one Williams stand-in, writing the play in full view. But whereas Tom in Gordon Edelstein’s stunning Taper “Glass Menagerie” was emotionally invested in the events he both lived and scribed, this guy is in a dreamy absinthe haze, a cut-rate Baudelaire spouting inchoate imagery amped up by the microphone attached to his jock. Bits of text are hazily projected against the rear wall, though inconsistently and sometimes rapid-fire, suggesting the production can’t really be bothered with anything the man has to say.
On the other hand, what exactly is there for him to observe? Familiar but tenderly conceived Williams types — an elderly gay street artist; an Eastern sophisticate and her rough-trade lover; a notorious landlady — are here reduced to crude caricatures. The usually nuanced Kate Valk, doubling as both madam and not-so-sweet young thing, makes each a shrieking harpy lacking variety or sympathy.
Scott Shepherd, so trenchant as Hamlet for the same company in 2008, is asked to wave around a bloody hankie as the consumptive old man and undulate as the stud; he convinces in neither louche incarnation.
Sneaking in video images from the old Warhol Factory, LeCompte in “Vieux Carre” isn’t bringing out subtext but hammering home that which is already, obviously there. Thus, both the coughing old man and the preening stud sport a rubber twig ‘n’ berries out their pants. Can’t tell at a distance whether Shepherd changes into a different dildo for each character, but we get it: They’re sex-mad. We get it: the young Williams saw sexual opportunity everywhere.
The company goes to great lengths to dress and undress in full view, moving platforms a few feet left or right or sliding in screens without making any material changes to the stage space. Yet the ultimate payoff is inadequate to all the effort.
The young Williams’ early life amidst squalor inspired the grace and human understanding of later masterpieces. We get that, but it’s a thin theme on which to peg almost two hours of strained imagery and aural assault.