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Suddenly Last Summer

These are meaty roles, among the best in the Williams canon, but the long monologues are difficult beyond mere verbosity.



The pun is as irresistible as it is tasteless. The folks at the Summer Company have bitten off a bit more than they can chew with Tennessee Williams' allegorical and poetic (if self-loathing) Suddenly Last Summer. (Sorry if that's a spoiler.)

The 1958 one-act seems to be stretched out to fill nearly two hours, or maybe it's just a problem of pacing for director John E. Lane Jr. Or perhaps it's the languor of a New Orleans garden in the mid-1930s; Lane and designer TJ Firneno have certainly captured the atmosphere of the tangled, jungle-like setting of the Venables' home.

The play revolves around Sebastian Venables, never seen, never fully known, and (according to the playwright) totally unportrayable. The question of his death is the plot device, but the bigger question of Summer is his life: urbane but unknown genius or desiccated dissolute? Scholars generally consider the character to be at least somewhat autobiographical.

Sebastian is fleshed out by two women at war with themselves and with each other. The Venable matriarch has passion and money on her side, and wields almost unlimited power. Cousin Catherine is armed only with youth and truth — and is generally considered insane. Meaty roles, among the best in the Williams canon, but the long monologues are difficult beyond mere verbosity. There's a complementary rhythm. Or there should be. This is poetry, not just dialogue. Venerable stage veteran Susan McGregor-Laine captures Violet Venable's iron fist in the velvet glove and the tang behind the sweet Southern accent. Opposite her, Teresa Madden Harrold is lovely, but not quite getting the complexity of Catherine's frailty and strength.

Leading the supporting cast is John Feightner as the ambitious but conscience-stricken doctor; Firneno as Catherine's greedy, doltish brother; Gina Preciado as their grasping mother; Jill Jeffrey as the nurse who grows to realize that the situation is not as she originally thought; and Cassandra Hough as Mrs. Venable's put-upon maid.

The play tends to be overshadowed by the star power of the bowdlerized 1959 film version, so give Summer Company props for bringing the original Suddenly Last Summer to local audiences.

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