A Cavalier For Milady
Cock Tavern Theatre April 2011
This admirably ambitious above-a-pub theatre scores another coup with the world premiere of a late and hitherto unknown Tennessee Williams play.
A Cavalier For Milady is a slight and fragile work, and the resources of the Cock Tavern Theatre aren't quite up to doing it full justice, but like the Cock's other Williams premiere it will be a must-see for all those fascinated by America's greatest poet of the theatre.
Like many of Williams' finest dramas, this one is ultimately about his sister Rose, whose burgeoning adolescent sexuality so offended and frightened their mother that she had the girl institutionalised and lobotomised.
(Rose actually was severely disturbed and lobotomy was unfortunately state of the art treatment at the time.)
In this short play, a grown young woman is kept infantilised by her mother, in part to deny her maturity, in part so that mother can pretend that she herself is still youthful enough to warrant the attentions of her hired escorts.
The girl's sexuality is channelled into erotic fantasies out of her reading, currently taking the form of an apparition of the dancer Nijinsky.
But,voicing a recurring Williams theme, the ghost warns that his ideal perfection cannot exist alongside physical sexuality, and the girl can either adore or desire, but not both.
And so this late play footnotes themes and images that haunted Williams' entire career, not just his sister, but the fragility and otherworldliness of lovers of beauty, the impulse to escape the body but the impossibility of doing so, the shimmering line between sensitivity and madness, and the cruelty of the unfeeling toward those clutching at ideals.
That's a lot for a one-hour play, and only a writer of Williams' delicacy could offer so much through wisps of suggestion and allusion - while, I should add, framing it all in the earthy comedy of the bawdy mother and a startled puritanical babysitter.
I mean no condemnation of director Gene David Kirk when I say that one senses more to the play than this production has been able to capture.
Caitlin Thorburn may be miscast as the girl, conveying her sense of wonder at the apparition she raises but neither the emotional fragility nor the irresistible sexuality that must be in constant battle within her.
Sam Marks embodies the cool purity of the ghostly Nijinsky but only hints at his struggle to maintain it, and the tiny stage hinders his moments of dancing.
And while Janet Prince, Gillian Hanna and Lucinda Curtis have fun with the broad comedy of the framing scenes, there is too little sense of the menace their crudity represents.
Of course, I couldn't even raise these complaints if the director's vision weren't acute enough to point us toward what wasn't quite achieved, and even in its imperfect form this production is fascinating and evocative.
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Review of A Cavalier For Milady - Cock Tavern Theatre 2011