The Bee Gees’ 1977 hit “How Deep is Your Love” is not often mistaken for a traditional jazz ballad. But backed by the jazz band Krewe of Bechet, Vinsantos Defonte croons an entertaining version of it at the beginning of Vieux Carre at the AllWays Lounge (running through Sunday, March 25)
That interpretation of the song straddles the odd timeframe of Vieux Carre, which Tennessee Williams began working on in the 1930s and finished late in his life in the 1970s. The play bombed on Broadway and closed after several days.
[jump] The version director Dennis Monn has created at AllWays, the bar he manages, neatly fits the barroom setting and its paired down and refocused. Williams bracketed his memory play with scenes in a disco, and at AllWays there’s action at the bar, on the music stage normally used by bands and swirling around the audience in the front room. Scenes flash back to a French Quarter boarding house populated by a diverse group of eccentrics and lonely souls, which the production evokes without much in the way of props or sets.
There is a brief encounter with a tipsy writer (Christopher Weaver) pecking at a typewriter on the bar top, but then the play delves into the past, inspired by Williams' own arrival in the city in the 1930s. The writer, as a younger man, moves into the boarding house, where he has odd encounters with most of the fellow boarders.
Emilie Whelan is stellar as Jane, a rich socialite who is living a bohemian lifestyle. She's fallen in love with Tye (Mac Taylor), who works at door at a Bourbon Street strip club and is addicted to drugs. Jane is open about how she feels and what she wants, and Whelan carries much of the work's emotional weight. She fights with Tye, bristling at his freeloading and philandering and forgiving his many shortcomings. She battles with the proprietor over the dilapidated state of the property and is kind to other residents.
Defonte is poised and funny as Nightingale, a jaded elderly artist who paints portraits and tries to seduce younger men. The painter is fickle, wise, pathetic and persistent. He has no trouble sniffing out the writer’s secrets, but struggles to charm him.
As the “landlady” Mrs. Wire, Sherri Marina almost steals the show. She’s loud and pushy, which she plays for easy laughs when chasing down deadbeat residents and being overbearing and intrusive. Nothing brings gleam to her eyes like making a quick buck, and she thinks her property is the French Quarter’s finest, which it clearly is not.
Other characters include the odd duo of Maude (Rebecca Rae) and Carrie (Elyse Manning), a frumpy pair of harmless but entertaining busybodies. They scrounge meals from garbage cans but describe the food as fine restaurant fare when offering to share it. There also are a parade of would-be and short-time lovers, played by Eli Grove and Cameron Mitchell Ware.
The writer is supposed to be an awkward figure, not comfortable with his sexuality and deferential to the stronger personalities surrounding him. Weaver plays him extremely passively and is monotone in his delivery, which diffuses the work's energy. Though at times the writer speaks about the boarding house residents as ghosts who have never left him, he never seems like someone who related to them.
The barroom and disco music work as a setting for a semi-immersive foray into the hazy world of bohemians. There is some indulgence of down-and-out philosophers, but Monn cut an hour out of the script and streamlined the work. We see many of the characters in grand vignettes. The writer at the center of the play can't carry the drama, but the residents are an amusing lot.
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday
AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., (504) 218-5778