CT Theatre: Sweet Bird of Youth

Fiona Ramsay as the Princess and Marcel Meyer as Chance Wayne (Pic: Ride Hamilton)

After a sensational, sold-out debut in the USA, local audiences now have an exclusive opportunity to see Abrahamse & Meyer’s internationally lauded, landmark revival of gay playwright Tennessee Williams’ haunting classic drama, Sweet Bird of Youth at the Artscape Theatre.

This visceral revival of Williams’ seminal text had American critics and audiences raving when it opened at the 12th Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival.

Named one of the “Best Theatre Productions in the Boston Area in 2017”, Sweet Bird of Youth was hailed by the American press as “exceptional theatre”, “a transformative experience” and “nothing short of brilliant.” Cape Town theatre lovers have only eight performances to see this unforgettable drama in it’s only local engagement.

Set in the small town of Saint Cloud, on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Sweet Bird of Youth, tracks the fading dreams of hustler, Chance Wayne, a long-gone traveller returning home. Alongside Chance, former movie star Alexandra Del Lago (traveling incognito as Princess Kosmonopolis) faces her own uncertain future. The play contains some of Williams’ most evocative lyrical passages and is regarded as one of his finest dramas.

Sweet Bird of Youth opened on Broadway in 1959 starring Paul Newman as Chance Wayne and Geraldine Page as the Princess. The play was an enormous success, becoming Williams’ fourth longest running play on Broadway after A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie. The play has been adapted for the screen twice, first in 1962 with Newman and Page recreating their Broadway roles and again in 1989 in a made-for-television film starring Elizabeth Taylor as the Princess and Mark Harmon as Chance.

This production, directed and designed by multi-award winning, Fred Abrahamse, stars doyenne of South African stage, Fiona Ramsay in the coveted role of the Princess. Ms Ramsay was last seen in Cape Town in her award-winning turn as Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Marcel Meyer plays Chance Wayne. Meyer has won acclaim at home and abroad for his portrayals of several leading characters in the Williams’ repertoire.

“Princess Kosmonopolis, as played by Fiona Ramsay, is quite simply a delight. Marcel Meyer is brilliant as Chance Wayne” wrote American critic, Jeanette de Bouvier. Veteran stage actor, Michael Richard brings his magnetic presence and mellifluous voice to the villainous role of Boss Finely, the larger-than-life white-supremacist who is hell-bent on destroying Chance Wayne.

The rest of the ensemble cast include multi-talented Dean Balie in an unforgettable cameo as Miss Lucy, Boss Finley’s long-suffering mistress. Matthew Baldwin doubles as ambitious young doctor, George Scudder and Heavenly Finley, Chance Wayne’s childhood sweetheart while Jeremy Richard, son of Michael Richard, plays Heavenly’ s brother, Tom Junior, reuniting real-life father and son as on-stage father and son. Newcomer, Tristan de Beer makes his professional debut in the multiple roles of Stuff, the handsome young Bar-man at the Royal Palms Hotel, malevolent hotel-clerk Dan Hatcher and Heavenly’ s benevolent Aunt Nonnie.

This production of Sweet Bird of Youth was commissioned by the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival to play in repertory with Abrahamse & Meyer’s six-man Hamlet. The 2017 Tennessee Williams Festival was curated around the theme Tennessee Williams & Shakespeare pairing plays by Williams with those of Shakespeare. Local audiences will get the unique opportunity to experience this repertory season in Cape Town when Abrahamse & Meyer’s Hamlet opens at the Artscape Theatre on 11 April 2018.

Sweet Bird of Youth was last staged in Cape Town in 1978 by CAPAB drama starring Paul Slabolepszy as Chance and Vienne Drummond as the Princess. That production was notable for being the first production where actors of colour appeared along-side white actors on a then-segregated state theatre stage. Exactly forty years later this new production plays on the very same stage in celebration of the remarkable transformation our country has undergone in the past four decades.

Sweet Bird of Youth will be presented in the Artscape Theatre from 31 March till 8 April. Evening performances are at 19:00 with Matiness at 15:00. Tickets prices range from R180 – R200. Booking now open at Computicket or Artscape-Dial-A-Seat.

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