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An Overstuffed <i>Sweet Bird of Youth</i> Features a Strong Performance in Diane Lane

Goodman'sis a fascinating mess. Forget the talented and stunning Diane Lane -- David Cromer's direction is the star.
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In this Sept. 14, 2012 photo provided by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Academy Award-nominated actress Diane Lane, as Princess Kosmonopolis, and Broadway’s Finn Wittrock, as Chance Wayne, perform in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ "Sweet Bird of Youth" at the Goodman Theatre. Lane portrays an older woman being used by a younger man to win back his former lover. The show runs through Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre, Liz Lauren)
In this Sept. 14, 2012 photo provided by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Academy Award-nominated actress Diane Lane, as Princess Kosmonopolis, and Broadway’s Finn Wittrock, as Chance Wayne, perform in a scene from Tennessee Williams’ "Sweet Bird of Youth" at the Goodman Theatre. Lane portrays an older woman being used by a younger man to win back his former lover. The show runs through Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre, Liz Lauren)

Goodman's Sweet Bird of Youth is a fascinating mess. Forget the talented and stunning Diane Lane -- David Cromer's direction is the star. After all, his bewildering and distracting choices insert themselves front and center. Or spin around in circles, as is the case in the dizzying third act. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Cromer isn't all to blame. Honestly, this just isn't one of Tennessee Williams' best works. True, Alexandra Del Lago (or Princess Kosmonopolis, depending on her mood) is a deliciously complex character. A highly affected movie star who fears she's past her prime, she's both the prey and the hunter. She throws out self-deprecating barbs like, "Even a dead race horse is used to make glue." She applies makeup like a warrior preparing for battle. She freely uses sex to her advantage.

But one colorful character does not a play make, despite Lane's very valiant efforts in act 1 and particularly act 3 where she melts down and firms back up. The problem is her relationship with the much younger Chance Wayne (Finn Wittrock, who looks good shirtless but doesn't quite have the weight for the role) feels contrived, simply because Wayne's motivation is half-baked. We're told he's in love with Heavenly, a young woman with a vaguely tragic past, and that he's using Del Lago to win back Heavenly's affections. But Wayne and Heavenly's relationship is so underdeveloped (despite a throwaway act 2 that attempts to fill in the gaps), I found it hard to empathize with Wayne's plight.

Yes, the notions of the fickleness of age and opportunity are provocative and well-worth dramatizing, but in Sweet Bird, particularly this overstuffed production, it feels like an idea puffed up with high drama and distracting theatrics.

"Sweet Bird of Youth" plays through October 28 at Goodman Theatre. More info here.

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