Theater Review: “Suddenly, Last Summer”
You know that slogan: “What happens in Cabeza de Lobo, stays in Cabeza de Lobo.” OK, I’m not referring to Las Vegas—the casino, sin city of the American West—but to the Spanish beach resort in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer where southern American gentlemen go to cruise. The southern gentleman in question in this play is Sebastian Venable, and his untimely and enigmatic death in Cabeza de Lobo has engendered a family crisis in New Orleans.
Produced in homage to the Tennessee Williams Centennial Celebration here in Richmond (the other production is Firehouse Theatre’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof), this Richmond Triangle Players production has a definite artistic and technical thumbs-up.
Evoking the eerie, spooky ambience of New Orleans to match the mystery surrounding Sebastian’s death, Director Josh Chenard casts the ensemble in red light (lighting by Rebecca Brooks) pantomiming—in slow, glacial paces—the animals of a tropical jungle before the opening scene. This concept, mixed with our introduction to the dowager Violet Venable’s brooding conservatory in her mansion (set design by David Allan Ballas) where the play is set, repeats throughout the performance evoking the animalism we will see run rampant in the dysfunctional Venable-Holly family. (Think August: Osage County but with less characters.)
The plot of this play, which could almost be played like a farce, is composed of two long monologues containing peripheral dialogue among a set of characters including Dr. Cukrowicz (Charley Raintree), Miss Foxhill (Sarah Jamillah Johnson), and Sister Felicity (Melanie Richards). The first is delivered by Violet Venable, who’s determined to defend her son’s reputation against her niece’s—Catherine Holly (Lauren Marie Hafner)—ludicrous story about how her son died in Cabeza de Lobo. The second is by Catherine, herself, who’s equally determined to tell the truth of the disturbing events leading up to Sebastian’s death. Her family thinks she’s crazy, and it’s up to us to come to a decision about the validity of her testimony.
Hafner’s Catherine gives us a performance of a sensual and mentally unstable young debutant. It’s hard to remain focused in her infinite monologue, but the chilling suspense of each event surrounding Sebastian’s demise compounds as Catherine’s truth telling converges to a climax that is barbarically carnivorous.
This play is classic Williams on a smaller scope and director Josh Chenard has kept it faithful. It’s not the laugh-out-loud comedy you usually get at RTP, but you’ll enjoy the exploits of a dowager who needs her five o’clock daiquiri religiously, a free-loading mother, Mrs. Holly (Jacqueline O’Connor), along with her money-grubbing son, George Holly (Augustin J. Correro), who is concerned more about her family’s inheritance than defending her daughter’s veracity, and a handsome, unseen character with a hunger for Iberian brunettes and Scandinavian blonds. Las Vegas? Not this October, you’ll need to be at RTP to find out what happened in Cabeza de Lobo.
3 ½ out of 5 Stars
“Suddenly, Last Summer” runs through October 22, 2011 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Avenue. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.rtriangle.org. Photo by John MacLellan.
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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