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A CurtainUp Review
Spring Storm

. . .I know it's hard to be young! Almost as hard as it is to be old. Sometimes it's even harder because when you're old, you get so you appreciate a good cup of coffee. But the young ones, the kids like you, they think the sun won't rise tomorrow unless they get what they want
---Aunt Lila, the spinster aunt to her romantically storm tossed niece.
Krista Lambden and John Gazzale
Krista Lambden as Heavenly Critchfield and John Gazzale as Arthur Shannon (Photo: Carol Rosegg )
Spring Storm like Not About Nighingales was long buried among Tennessee Williams' papers at the University of Texas. Vanessa Redgrave excavated Not About Nightingales, a fact-based prison drama, and her brother Colin starred in it in London and New York. Eight years ago Spring Storm, which was written even earlier, was retrieved from the archival dustbin by scholar and journalist Don Isaacs who arranged a New York reading as well as publication. The long lost script did not stir up enough of a storm for a New York production and was subsequently staged in Texas and California. Now, thanks to the young LOBO Theatre Company, it has finally landed in New York under the guidance of one of company co- founder Coy Middlebrook.

This latest resurrection from the early Williams archives is hardly a masterpiece. However, scholars and admirers of his work won't want to miss this opportunity to see see young Tom Williams grappling with the character types and themes that were to make the name Tennessee Williams synonymous with playwriting at its most poetic and moving.

The play, which takes place in the small town of Port Tyler, Mississippi in the Spring of 1937, is very much the work of a novice with the tendency to stuff his scripts with more characters than he can possibly flesh out and dialogue that for the most part lacks the lyricism that would permeate his mature work.. Seeing it is nevertheless a fascinating experience. Watching the young people whose romantic entanglements drive the plot is like browsing through a sketchbook of preliminary drawings for scenes and characters for Glass Menagerie, A A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and Summer and Smoke. (The characters and situations are also oddly reminiscent of one of William Inge's Picnic).

The Southern belle at the center of the tempestuous romantic climate that matches the weather of most of the play's four days and six scenes is the twenty-two-year old daughter of a grand old family of less than grand financial circumstances. Her name is Heavenly Cartwright (Krista Lambden) -- who but Williams could come up with a name that evokes visions of white organdy dresses? Heavenly is enough of a rebel from the rigid small town conventions to have more than a kissing and hugging romance with Dick Miles (Joe B. McCarthy), her sexy but shiftless lower class boyfriend. As she combines elements of both a young Blanche Dubois and her sister Stella, so Dick combines the sexual aggressiveness of Stanley Kowalski and Tom Wingfield's yearning to see the world. To further suggest familiar Williams' types in embryo there's also Arthur Shannon (John Gazzale) , a more genteel and bookish gentleman caller who has always adored her and who is in turn secretly loved by the old-maidish young librarian Hertha Neilson (Kristen Cerelli).

The stormy weather that prevails through much of the four days in April during which Spring Storm's two acts and six scenes play out parallels the storm brewing in the lives of Heavenly, Dick, Arthur and Hertha. Being Williams characters, no matter how embryonic, this April, proves true to the original title of, April Is the Cruelest Month and their passions will yield no happy endings

To precipitate the storm in the midst of the suffocating small town atmosphere, one of the young men in Heavenly's life is about to go away just as the other has recently come back . Arthur has recently returned to Port Tyler to pursue a banker's career and the, to him, heavenly Heavenly whose memory even a brief affair with a woman in London could not obliterate. Dick, on the other hand, wants to get away from the class conscious, stultifying town and see the world,. When the opportunity to do so knocks via a job working on building a river levee,. Heavenly must choose between abandoning her social position for being the sexually fulfilled wife of a "river rat" or marrying Arthur. as her pragmatic mother (Elizabeth Kemp), an easily recognized forerunner to Amanda Wingfield, urges her to do..

Two other key female characters are an amalgam of the lonely and repressed Southern spinsters who populate the Tennessee Williams landscape: Heavenly's Aunt Lila (Carlin Glynn), who once loved Arthur's father; and Hertha, the impoverished (economically and emotionally) librarian who will never have her own children to read to as she does to the town's children. These women also happen to be this play's best realized characters, with the most resonant dialogue and scenes and the actresses portraying these prototype of lonely Williams women give the most satisfying performances. Corelli is particularly good in the feverish middle scene of the play's second and better second act during which a drunken Arthur melts her repressed feelings-- only to cruelly reject her and thus provoke the inevitably tragic ending. Glynn captures the rueful, wry humor of the Aunt who relates better to young Heavenly than her domineering mother.

David Gideon doesn't have a chance to make much of an impression as the head of the Crichtfield household and the play's most underwritten character. Still, the nervous stomach and hint of a serious illness once again hint at a much richer future character, Big Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

This being a small company without name actors or a large production budget, Coy Middlebrook and his design team deserve high marks for the staging which uses a few movable props to suggest the multiple locations. Middlebrook has smartly taken advantage of the fact that the Theatre at St. Clements is in a church. He has the Reverend Hooker (Drew McVety) launch the opening church processional by throwing open the shutters to reveal the church's beautiful stained glass windows. While I don't usually like to see a lot of props being moved around in between scenes, kudos to the cast for gamely doing double duty as prop movers and achieving the numerous scene shifts smoothly and without the abruptness of end of scene blackouts.

Despite being more of a case study in a major writer's development than a newly discovered masterpiece, Spring Storm is very much a theatrical event and LOBO Theatre deserves our gratitude for giving us a chance to see it even though only for a limited run.. At $19 a ticket, it's also an experience within every theater goer's means.

For links to CurtainUp's review of Not About Nightingale and l other Tennessee Williams plays see our Tennessee Williams Background Pagee

New York premiere of SPRING STORM
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Coy Middlebrook
Cast: Kristen Cerelli, John Gazzale, David Gideon, Carlin Glynn, Elizabeth Kemp, Krista Lambden, Joe B. McCarthy, Gabe Fazio, Patricia Marie Kelly, Marianne Matthews, Drew McVety, Sylvia Norman, Summer Serafin
Set Design: Shawn Lewis
Costume Design: Theresa Squire
Lighting Design: Josh Bradford
Original Score, Music Direction and Sound Design: David Pinkard
Choreography: Timothy Edward Smith
Hair Design: Richard Stein
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, includes one intermission
LOBO Theatre at Theatre @ St. Clements, 423 W. 46th St. (9/10 Avenues) 212/2799-4200
5/05/04 to 5/29/04; opening 5/09/04
Wed - Sat at 8pm; Sun at 7pm -- $19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 9th press Performance performance
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