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A Light-handed Exploration of Loneliness

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s ‘Creve Coeur’

Sep. 27, 2016
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Photo by Paul Ruffolo

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of a little-known late work by Tennessee Williams, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, is a masterful study of loneliness, unlikely companionship and “going on” after dreams are shattered. The action takes place in a single day in 1937 when four women struggle to deal with one another as well as the separate challenges and unmet desires each faces individually. Director Leda Hoffmann writes: “It is human nature to not want to be alone. This need for companionship, to know someone is there, drives us to love deeply and believe passionately. I think that’s in all of us. Sometimes, to not be alone, we must dive into our fantasies. To believe that someone we like likes us back, to believe an acquaintance is a friend and to believe that a soul mate is out there.” Moreover, these characters are examples of feminine strength against difficult odds—three out of the four are working women, and all are single in a time when it was still very rare for women to pursue a career outside the home. Under Hoffman’s direction, the four accomplished Milwaukee actresses performing here bring us a tremendous ensemble performance with fully articulated individual characterizations.

As Dorothea, one of Williams’ aging Southern belle archetypes, Kay Allmand is a delight. The play opens with her adorable 1930s exercise routine, to which Allmand commits with the same aplomb she brings to all aspects of her emotionally delicate yet ultimately resilient character.

As Helena, Molly Rhode is appropriately infuriating for her classism, superciliousness and casual racism. It is a testament to Rhode’s sensitivity as a performer that she also brings out the subtle sympathetic side of the character whose vulnerability is well hidden under her compulsion to “advance in appearances.”

Karen Estrada’s performance as Sophie is exquisite for her diversity of expressions and moods within a role that includes very little English and a great deal of weeping; always interesting to watch, Estrada’s Sophie is both poignant and, quite often, very funny. 

Finally, as the heart-and-soul character of the play, Bodey, Kelly Doherty is a force of nature. Bodey is highly emotionally sophisticated but frequently put down by the other characters; it’s fascinating to watch Doherty react in different ways and build gradually toward revelation of her character’s own unfulfilled desires and refusal to take any more verbal abuse.

Production elements greatly augment MCT’s staging as well. Andrea Bouck’s costume design offers a charming glimpse into the period and effectively evokes each character’s slight variations in class, ethnic background, temperament and even shifting emotions. Courtney O’Neill’s scenic design is a gem of a box set capturing a gorgeously over-the-top German decorating sensibility that amounts to a cross between a visual representation of Bodey’s indomitable optimism and sensory overload.

Through Oct. 16 at Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N Broadway. For tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com

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