Reviewed by Chris Gibson
Gary Bell, artistic director of Stray Dog Theatre, introduced this production as "Tennessee on Tennessee", making reference to the playwright as well as the company's new home. Suddenly Last Summer
, Tennessee Williams' 90 minute one-act, opens this first season in Tower Grove Abbey (2336 Tennessee Avenue.) in excellent fashion. And with a plot that revolves around a proposed lobotomy and an act of cannibalism, it's just my cup of tea as well.
Tennessee Williams' play focuses on Mrs. Violet Venable's obsession with protecting her late son's name at all cost. Unable or unwilling to come to grips with her son Sebastian's homosexuality and his violent death, she conceives of a plan whereby her niece, who witnessed the gruesome event, will be silenced from ever revealing the truth. Violet decides to back the financially strapped Dr. Cukrowicz if he agrees to perform a lobotomy on her niece. Though he decides to listen to Catharine's story before deciding on a course of action, the matter is left unresolved.
Nancy Lewis is mesmerizing as Violet Venable. Her character's logic may be twisted, but she plays the part so convincingly that you may start wondering where the truth actually does lie. Lewis is able to bring depth and believability to a role that could easily be portrayed as a one dimensional villain. She savors each delicious line of venom her character delivers. Julie Layton impresses as Catharine. The raven haired beauty captures the promiscuity and rebellious nature of Catharine while also making you care about her eventual disposition. Her final monologue, which finds her recalling Sebastian's murder is riveting. Rusty Gunther and Liz Hopefl are especially slimy as Catharine's brother and mother, respectively. Driven by greed, they will only realize their inheritance if Violet allows Sebastian's will to be taken out of probate. Of course, that will only happen if Catharine recants her account of his demise. Jan Niehoff as a nun, charged with the task of looking after Catharine, Chelsea Zotta as Violet's nervous caretaker and Joshua Thomas as Dr. Cukrowicz lend solid support.
Gary Bell's direction is strong with intense and focused characterizations all around. The pace rarely lags even though the play is performed without intermission. However, some questionable southern accents among the cast were a distraction. Sarah Thorowgood Daniels' set design adds atmosphere with it's lush vegetation, and is enhanced by Tyler Duenow's lighting scheme But, the acoustics of the Abbey are going to require a bit of trial and error to get just right. Due to the size and shape of the room, it was often difficult to hear all of the dialogue clearly.
Stray Dog Theatre's production of Suddenly Last Summer
continues through September 22nd (2007) at the Tower Grove Abbey. Call 314-865-1995 for ticket information, or visit them online at www.straydogtheatre.org