Review: Sweet Bird of Youth

I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I came to see Feather Theatre Company’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” but the swathe of riveting performances that was so superbly brought together made this play an unforgettable experience.

The play starts off in a hotel room. We meet the two main characters, Rory Gee’s Chance Wayne and Alana Mann’s Alexandra del Lago , the morning after arriving back in Chance’s hometown. An early morning visit warns both Chance and the audience of a past scandal that now threatens him. From here the play develops into an emotional and thought-provoking piece. Chance and Alexandra, the latter a star who has fallen from her peak, the former waiting to find his break. Both characters prize their fleeting, physical beauty as their singular route to stardom. What separates the two is their motivation: Alexandra seeks success for its own sake; Chance believes it will be the key to win the girl he fell in love with and lost many years ago. Ultimately, however, the tragedy of each character stems from their dissatisfaction in life, which is only compounded as they desperately try to ride out the final, few moments of their youth.

Held in a fairly small and intimate room, the setting makes it very easy to become totally absorbed right into the thick of the action. The setup enables easy movement around the room and through the audience, which the actors use to its full advantage, creating a dynamic and very real experience. Particular credit should be given for the way in which such an explosive ending is created. An ending which is the perfect resolution between Chance and the antagonists of the story, the father and brother of the girl Chance loves. Kyle Kirkpatrick gives a truly intimidating performance as the father, a politician who is as terrifying as he is hateful, not least for overt racism as the play is set several decades earlier. Supposedly driven by a call from God, the father makes an excellent antagonist and adds an interesting lens with which the play further explores themes of purity and moral vices. These include drug abuse and promiscuity. Although he represents an extremely dated and old-fashioned view of many things, not least through his attitudes towards race, the character is no less effective than any more modern equivalent would be, thanks to a full-on performance.

The use of a simple musical motif ties together several of the more poignant and introspective moments of the play, in particular a small number of monologues by each main character as the two actors explore the depths of their characters through excellent and engaging monologues and conversations. All of this is aided by the chemistry and ease with which the two bounce off each other. Throughout the play their relationship fluctuates back and forth and the actors capture this brilliantly and this only makes Chance’s situation increasingly desperate as events spiral out of his control. Neither one of the pair are ever portrayed as anything but flawed, perhaps even just bad people but we feel sympathy for them through almost the entire play. This is because each own’s personal losses and dilemmas are expressed and even play out in front of us. Even towards the end as Chance’s single-mindedness leads him down an ever more questionable and concerning path, we cannot help but feel sympathy for a man who seems pitted against every force greater than himself, from a corrupt politician to even the unceasing march of time.

Sweet Bird of Youth is a play that takes the potentially cliched plot of a man desperately trying to be reunited with his love against overwhelming forces, and adds layers of complexity and depth to plot and characters alike to create a deeply satisfying experience. Feather Theatre Company have done an excellent job of bringing this script to life and are really able to convey it to the audience. This has been an all-round accomplishment from the spectacular actors, to the directing and technical setup of the play. Every aspect came together terrifically to create an enthralling and thrilling evening of great entertainment.

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