The nonchalance that pervades “Carson McCullers Talks About Love,” courtesy of Suzanne Vega, is reminiscent of Southern Comfort — smooth and sweet but packing an unexpected wallop. A singer by trade, Vega proves herself a convincing and affecting actress, but doesn’t quite have the technique to carry a show that’s so narrative-heavy. But when she opens her mouth to sing, watch out. Her honeyed voice glides over winsome melodies and playful lyrics with a finesse that’s downright intoxicating.
Vega wrote both the music (with Duncan Sheik) and book for the work, at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater — and she performs the show almost solo, backed by only a guitarist and pianist who also contribute snippets of dialogue. The format generally works, although occasionally one wonders why some characters are played by the pianist and others consist of thin air. Vega’s affinity for her title character is evident, and her portrayal never lacks truth, only variety. After relating her personal epiphany about the Southern gothic writer, she slips into McCullers’ colorful life, replete with affairs with members of both sexes, two marriages to the same man, literary triumphs and a gaggle of famous literati like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.
Vega’s music is simple, straightforward and intelligent. And that voice! Clear as a bell, seemingly effortless. Her low-key delivery is initially captivating both with and without music. If it ultimately wears thin in speech, it never ceases to enthrall in song.