Theatre Reviews
Photo by Suzy Gorman courtesy of the Tennessee Williams Festival

By CB Adams

At the conclusion of “Suddenly Last Summer,” presented as part of the 8th Annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, I was reminded of something the novelist Vladimir Nabokov said about his writing approach. He said, “My characters are galley slaves.”

In most of his plays, Tennessee Williams seems to have shared that sentiment by forcing his main characters to undergo excruciating fates while speaking his exquisite, sparkling, deeply poetic dialogue. If that’s how you like your Tennessee Williams, then you will appreciate how Director Tim Ocel allows the unmistakable and quirky voice of Williams to shine forth throughout “Suddenly Last Summer’s” 90-minute single act.

Tony Kushner, another playwright, has said he appreciates the way Williams could deliver dialogue with the density of poetry. As haunting and beautiful as the words of Williams are, it’s the performance of them which brings them to life.

The filmed version of “Suddenly Last Summer,” co-written by Williams and Gore Vidal, improved the storyline of the original play. By comparison, this production  allows you to put your attention on the actors instead of the parboiled southern gothic storyline. That’s how and why this production excels.

Yes, the set design by James Wolk, the lighting design by Matthew McCarthy, the sound design by Philip Evans and the costume design by Dottie Marshal Englis are top notch, but it’s the actors’ abilities to deliver the words of Williams that make this production remarkable.

Mrs. Venable is the first major character introduced, and Lisa Tejero plays her with a concentrated venom. Next up, is Bradley Tejeda who plays the nicknamed Dr. Sugar – in a white suit, no less. Through his carefully modulated performance, the audience experiences the unraveling of the play’s mysteries. The centerpiece of this performance is Naima Randolf’s wrenching portrayal of Catharine Holly. She almost steals the show. It's a rare actor who can be so deep into a moment that their nose runs.

The mission of the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis is to enrich our cultural landscape and celebrate his art and influence. With this production alone, that mission is accomplished.

“Suddenly Last Summer” continues at  COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theatre in University City through September 17. For more information, visit the web site.  

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