Creve Coeur is both French for "heartbreak" and a place in St. Louis, as well as the home spot of Tennessee Williams's play "A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur", which is currently playing at the Shaw Festival's Court House Theatre. There's plenty of heartbreak, too, in this 55-minute production, coming from all four characters in different ways. Hosting a late morning play is a tricky endeavour because it should be light enough that it doesn't take away your lunchtime appetite, but not so heavy it feels out of place in midday. To both extents, the Shaw Festival succeeds at just about every turn.
Dorothea (Deborah Hay) and Bodey (Kate Hennig) are roommates in an apartment that can't even dream of better days, a pair that are as alike as Felix and Oscar. Dorothea, or Dotty, is a slim, curly-haired schoolteacher who dreams of marrying her way up in the world with her school's principal, T. Ralph Ellis, the seemingly perfect mealticket. Contrasting her is Bodey, a German-American homely hard-of-hearing woman (an ear calcification is to blame), who's constantly trying to set up Dotty with her beer-guzzling, cigar-smoking twin brother, Buddy.
Bodey may seem like a simple woman but she's anything but; her interactions with the upstairs neighbour, Miss Gluck (Julain Molnar), a severely depressed woman whose only emotional outlets are perpetual weeping and German-English outbursts, are tender and poignant. And when Bodey encounters an associate of Dotty's, Helena (Kaylee Harwood), we get to see the other end of her tolerance.
Given the abbreviated length of "A Lovely Sunday", it's pleasantly surprising to witness just how much emotional and character exists within its walls. Director Blair Williams has guided his troops well, allowing Hay to stretch her natural comedic wings through hip swivels and crunches, and capitalizing on Hennig's earthly groundedness. Molnar and Harwood are have a couple of weak spots but I use that term quite gently; it's only a handful of times that Molnar tends to stray a little too far, while Harwood could sometimes be a little cattier and sharper-clawed.
Given the intimate size of the Court House Theatre, set designer Cameron Porteous has done an excellent job in filling the stage so it resembles a 1930s ramshackle space. The floor manages to include a kitchen, living room, bedroom and door to a bathroom (which Molnar's Gluck frequents readily), and though there are few walls to separate each room so the audience can always see what's going on, all four actors move around as though there really are plaster and wood beams dividing them.
Funny moments teem aplenty, which deceptively casts attention away from the tragic elements present. But that's one of Williams's gifts, to cloak a serious message in lighter humour so it's more readily accessible. And he also creates characters we can all relate to, whether it's Gluck and her inability to move past a devastating event, Helena's desire for something better in life, Dotty's realization that the shiniest-wrapped packages don't always contain the best presents, or Bodey's kind core that doesn't always know its place.
Lunchtime play or not, "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur" is an enjoyable little tidbit that makes for a delightful hour at the Shaw Festival.
"A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur" plays at the Shaw Festival's Court House Theatre through October 11. For more information and tickets, click here.