Vieux Carre, Equity Library Theatre Chicago, at the North Lakeside Cultural Center. In 1972 Tennessee Williams returned to earlier times in search of dramatic tension. Vieux Carre takes place in the shabby grandeur of the French Quarter in New Orleans circa 1939, when homosexuality was a perversion, cohabitation a scandal, and a job in a strip club a mark of bad character. Here, in a ramshackle boardinghouse, a young writer very like Williams himself documents the lives and fortunes of his fellow boarders–an assortment of misfits at once vulgar and vulnerable whose affectations are as fierce as their anger is pathetic.

For this second in Equity Library Theatre Chicago’s “Great American Playwrights of the Twentieth Century” series the company returns to the North Lakeside Cultural Center, site of its production of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude. Again their staging makes use of the restored mansion’s architectural configurations: audiences are seated in the entrance hall, and the action occurs in the surrounding rooms, which represent the various apartments designated in Williams’s script.

Despite some last-minute casting changes, the actors deliver sturdy performances, notably Karyn Lynn Dale as a patrician undone by her plebeian impulses and R. John Roberts as a tubercular sketch artist catering to the tourist trade–though Helen Merrier and Leah Roshal as a pair of dotty old crones steal every scene they’re in. The actors’ efforts redeem the gloom and despair of this great American playwright’s latter-day vision.

–Mary Shen Barnidge