Scott Shepherd is a big fan of Vieux Carré.
THE WOOSTER GROUP'S VERSION OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS' VIEUX CARRE directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, with Ari Fliakos, Scott Shepherd and Kate Valk. Presented by World Stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Wednesday (March 28) and runs to March 31, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm. $45, some discounts. 416-973-4000. See listing.
Look at that title. it's not just Tennessee Williams's Vieux Carre, but the Wooster Group's version of it. They're the legendary New York City experimental troupe. So you can expect lots of multimedia, and a complete absence of mint juleps and genteel Southern belles.
"When we first read the play it didn't present a typical arc or storyline," says company member Scott Shepherd about the obscure Williams work. "It contains shards of something you would recognize as a Williams style, that lyric voice. It has a memory play structure like Menagerie. But mixed in are these farcical, almost slapstick scenes. So it seems like a strange hybrid."
Williams began the autobiographical play, set in a rundown New Orleans boarding house, in the late 30s but didn't finish it until his career had almost ended, in the 1970s. The Wooster Group used this fact in the production, drawing on sexually explicit videos by Warhol Factory member Paul Morrissey to give the feel of the later period.
"Williams was struggling then, and felt the world had turned against him," says Shepherd, who's currently performing the lead in Elevator Repair Service's Gatz, the acclaimed six-and-a-half hour version of The Great Gatsby, in which he speaks every word of Fitzgerald's novel.
"[Williams] was depressed and on all sorts of medications. He was stuck in a style he'd invented for himself in the 1950s, one that had a lot to do with sexual repression. But in the 70s there was sexual liberation, particularly in the gay community."
The production also uses video by contemporary artist Ryan Trecartin to bring the work even closer to the present.
Shepherd, who joined the company in the late 1990s and took on the excruciating title role of their Hamlet a few years ago, plays two characters in Vieux Carré: a predatory gay artist and a photographer with a penchant for orgies. One of his props is a rubber phallus.
"An early idea we had was to do the play as Noh theatre," he explains, laughing. "And we were thinking of those erotic Japanese woodcuts, with phalluses protruding from kimonos. But there's lots of sexuality in the play itself. A hand job seems to be happening onstage, and people are constantly undressing and making love.
"It seems surprising until you realize it was the 70s."