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Suddenly Last Summer

a Drama
CATEGORY :
by Tennessee Williams

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3308

SHOWING : March 19, 2009 - April 18, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Secrets and denial explode on a steamy new Orleans afternoon in this scorching classic by the master of the American stage. Only Catharine knows what really happened to her cousin Sebastian on a fateful day in Cabeza de Lobo. But her aunt, the imperious Mrs. Venable, will stop at nothing to bury the truth. This sizzling classic tale of family dysfunction will be brought to life as only Actor's Express can do it, infused with a blast of fresh, modern energy.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Melissa Foulger
Sound Designer Janie Bullard
Props Designer Elisabeth Cooper
Stage Manager Becky Dumpis
Scenic Designer Phillip Male
Lighting Designer Katie McCreary
Costume Designer Nyrobi Moss
Sister Felicity Erin Burnett
Mrs. Venable Shannon Eubanks
Mrs. Holly Jo Howarth
George Holly Bobby Labartino
Dr. Cucrowisz J. Joe Sykes
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REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Powerful chamber work
by uppermiddlebrow
Saturday, April 11, 2009
5.0
AE really does have an impressive batting average - a string of successful artistic directors and, under Freddie Ashley, a string of successful shows. Missing one of their dramas - musicals are not my thing - starts to look like setting oneself up for regret. (I wish I'd caught the previous Eubanks / Donadio show, for example.) Is there another theatre in town of which that can be said?

I won't reprise the previous two reviews of this production. Just want to endorse their conclusions. Powerful direction and acting, never a foot wrong. I imagine this play could be an irritating disaster if handled clumsily; at AE it's a pleasure to see it work so well.

The play's 'message' - the bit with bath houses and exploited third world pubescents - yep, I know I'm both being literal and trying to stir up trouble - seems potentially uncomfortable for AE's gay-oriented audience base, no? Or a sign of growing security?

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Tennessee's Waltz
by Dedalus
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
5.0
The memory plays of Tennessee Williams have a way of sneaking under my emotional skin, leaving trails of darkness like the remnants of last night’s rain. “Suddenly, Last Summer” (1958), with which I had no familiarity, not even a passing encounter with the 1959 movie, proved to be no exception, despite newness of the memory on display, a play that encases the history of Williams’ sister in a story of fresher vintage, a memory as raw and open as last year’s wound.

If “Glass Menagerie” is the fragile memory of jewel-box delicacy, if “Streetcar” is the summer-hot wet-dream memory of desire and despair, then “Suddenly, Last Summer” is the cotillion memory, the summer waltz in which the dancers circle in desperate three-step, struggling to be the one who leads, the one who controls the memory of Sebastian Venable. Mother Violet twirls in her blind allegiance to the chaste poet, the mother’s idolization of the artist that never grew old, never sullied himself in the humanity he so studiously floated above. Cousin Catherine holds the truth, the memory of those final dark moments that may have really happened or may be the mad projections of her own desperate longings. Dr. Cukrowicz, who wants only the truth (or is it the money?), is in the dance in hopes of winning the partner for his own research, his own dream, his own darkness. And the Holly Aunt and Cousin are in their own desperate waltz, hoping that blue ribbon prize will be the inheritance gold that will keep them in their lives of quiet and unhurried sycophancy.

Conceived as an extended one-act (and originally performed with “Something Unspoken”), this is a ninety-minute wallow in the beauty of Williams’ prose, in the memory-monologues that flow from the actors like languid molasses, that characterize the dance of control like the oom-pah-pah base line of the cotillions of youth. Never rushed, always deliberate, I found the characters and language lingering in my head as vividly as the doggerel tunes of my own youth. The design team at Actors Express led by director Melissa Foulger have created a scene, a moment, that basks in the summer heat, that recreates the mad blindness of the venerable Mrs. Venable and the blind madness of Catherine Holly. Surrounding the set by audience on three sides, the design forces our judgment, or regard onto the heads of the characters, so their needs, their dances, seem more desperate, more urgent. The soundscape and lightscape are equal parts summer heat and remembered intensity, equal parts experience and imagination. Part of the soundscape was the lone laughter that would break from single sources at different lines, different times. The language, the music seemed to be specifically designed to never affect everyone at the same time, but to always affect someone at one time or another. It was the quiet laughter of amusement, of connections being made, of singular memories being evoked. And coming from three sides, it evoked the quiet pleasures of that summer ball, of that never rowdy, always polite waltz that becomes memory, that eludes reality.

Leading the first dance is Shannon Eubanks’ Violet Venable. Like all of Williams’ monster-mothers, she is equal parts blindness, delusion, and controlling impotence. Thinking her money will be the final arbiter of this particular waltz, she is prepared to commit atrocity to protect the sanctity of her delusion. Leading the second dance is Kate Donadio’s Catherine, all fragile delicacy, all breakable beauty. As her memory leads closer and closer to horror, she commands the stage, wins our hearts and minds, whirls to the music that only her memory hears. I had the feeling that Ms. Eubanks grew smaller as the afternoon fell into shadow, grew more overwhelmed by our silent witness surrounding her. At the same time, Ms. Donadio became stronger, more demanding that we no longer intimidate her with our regard, more certain that her story came from a place of knowledge, not a place of madness. And perhaps with the most difficult job of all, Joe Sykes’ Dr. Cukrowicz can only listen, judge. It is a credit to his performance that we don’t know what he will do, that, in acknowledging that Catherine’s story may be the truth, he is not ceding his right to “treat” her as Mrs. Venable desires, as Mrs. Venable will pay him to do. Jo Howarth and Bobby Labartino are the grasping Holly’s, the desperate hangers-on who are always two dances from landing the Belle of the Ball, who will be two dances away when the music stops. And Erin Burnette and Katie Aboudou are the servants, the caterers who hold the music, clean the instruments, and dry the spills. This is a truly sublime cast, one that fills these characters with life, with purpose, with need. Together they are both the makers of the music and the dancers of the waltz. They are the sweet source of satisfaction that make any trip into the dark corners of Tennessee Williams’ memories appealing, that draw us into that three-beats-to-the-measure trek from tortoise-shell to shoreline, that ensure the raptors will spare us their red-in-beak-and-talon hunger.

And they forcefully evoke Sebastian Venable, one of those towering characters of the theatre who never appear, but who leave a presence, a shadow, that overwhelmingly affects everyone they touched.

“Suddenly Last Summer” is a journey that will be remembered.

It is a waltz that will forever remain, like that lingering rain of an Atlanta Spring that drips into morning with its chilly precision and washes clean the day that is to come.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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Southern Skeletons in the Closet
by BenAround
Friday, April 3, 2009
5.0
It was my pleasure to enjoy the industry night performance Wednesday April 1, of this production. Brad (Dedalus) has written a most elegant review for the Buzz which will appear here shortly, I assume. I cannot hope to write anything so perfect (really, it is), so my offering here is to let you know that you need to make plans NOW to see this.

The thing I like about Tennessee Williams in general, is that no matter how bad your own family is, Mr. Williams can play and win the I Can Top That game. The characters, well crafted by the writer, are superbly played.

Shannon Eubanks is the quintessential Southern widowed matron Violet Venable, full of money, disdain and piety. Her refusal to see her son's life and untimely death in anything but a glorified sainthood application is really incredible. Although Sebastian is already deceased when the play begins, she provides a clear image of him for us all to ponder. She is real, gutsy and determined in her portrayal.

Dr. Cucrowisz, represented by Joe Sykes, never really expresses his own opinions (how doctor-like), but keeps us guessing his true motives in his visit to the Venable estate. It is hard to stay in character, without having a lot of dialogue, but Mr. Sykes does it well. His reactions are the key to his role. He listens quite a bit but gives us little verbal feedback. Therefore, this is a thinking play, where we have to fill in the details. How refreshing in our day to still be able to think for ourselves without everything being given and told to us.

Catharine Holly, played by Kate Donadio, is the resident crazy cousin of the deceased who was the last person to see Sebastian alive. Her performance ranges from lucidity to panic and back without apparent effort. She owns this one. You just have to see it to appreciate it.

The seedy family members are from Mr. Venable's side of the family as Violet is quick to point out. (They remind me of Ms. Hannigan and Rooster from Annie, scheming to get as much money as they can before a hasty exit from the manor.) Violet holds the purse strings and manipulates them and the doctor like puppets, controlling the entire situation. Jo Howarth and Bobby Labartino are very well-suited to play these money-grubbing relatives. Again, not so much dialogue from them, but they provide us with plenty of facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal communication to broadcast their thoughts to the audience and signals to each other.

The nurse and servant complete the ensemble and support this fine cast. The set, although minimal, is perfect to frame the action. Kudos also go to the effects achieved through light and sound. Pay close attention, since these techy things can easily be missed with the strong acting skills on display.

As always, AE come through with a new twist on a classic. Melissa Foulger's direction gives us a great peek through the window at the deep South and its
quirky residents. Also to Ms. Foulger's credit, the timing ... wait for it ... heightened the delivery of the lines and the opportunity for the audience to digest a very heavy story.

Ben [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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