Just a gigolo

Sweet Bird of Youth ; The Merry Wives of Windsor ; The Price
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  July 25, 2006


SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH: Give it another Chance.
Two guys on Berkshire stages are trying to parlay sexual prowess into deep pockets this week. In Tennessee Williams’s 1959 Sweet Bird of Youth (at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through July 30), flickering gigolo Chance Wayne tries everything from blackmail to stud service to procure the financial and career support of a faded, frantic film legend whose sweet bird has flown. And in The Merry Wives of Windsor (at Shakespeare & Company, in repertory through September 2), lard-bucket lothario Sir John Falstaff endeavors to huff and puff his way through a couple of sly Elizabethan housewives’ boudoirs to their husbands’ coffers. Each rogue gets his comeuppance, though Chance’s is more drastic: a crude operation that follows the final curtain like a shuddery coda. Falstaff, made a laughingstock, escapes with what cojones the old honor eschewer ever had intact.

A number of distinguished British directors have treated Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams like American Shakespeares. And at Williamstown, David Jones, who has directed extensively for the Royal Shakespeare Company and helmed Broadway revivals of Pinter’s No Man’s Land and The Caretaker, proves no exception. This is a handsome, grand-scale revival of a second-rate play that adheres to Williams’s every stage instruction, from the filmy settings to the stagy direct address to the audience, which includes the doomed Chance’s final, beseeching admonition that we recognize ourselves in him “and the enemy, time, in us all.”

But Jones proves less astute in casting. Talented Broadway vet Margaret Colin, playing the drugged-out Alexandra del Lago fleeing a failed Hollywood comeback, seems to have lost little of the former film star’s glamor; she’s commanding, with withering comic timing, but there’s little pathos to the character memorably created on stage and screen by Geraldine Page. And Derek Cecil’s Chance, no dissolute hustler and not much of a sex symbol, is a petulant little boy lost. Given to exaggeration, he’s sometimes childlike, sometimes effeminate, and occasionally almost clownish, as when interjecting a goofball element into his recollection of deflowering great love Heavenly Finley on a “sad, home-going train” from a lost high-school drama contest. Pull Paul Newman out of the salad-dressing kitchen and send him back to the bedroom!

Del Lago, traveling as the Princess Kosmonopolis, has picked up 29-year-old beach boy Chance while hiding out from her public in Palm Beach, and he has driven the actress, her pills and booze, and her Cadillac to the Royal Palms Hotel in the Gulf Coast town of St. Cloud, where he grew up. Having spent his years of youthful beauty barking up a lot of fruitless trees, Chance has a vague plan to impress the locals and escape to Hollywood with Heavenly using the Princess’s cash and connections. What be doesn’t know is that Heavenly’s father, powerful political demagogue Boss Finley, is gunning for him. It seems he gave his lady love a “whore’s disease,” causing her to have to be “spayed like a dawg,” and the boss’s eye-for-an-eye prescription is castration.

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