A full and enthusiastic audience was on hand last night for the debut of Tennessee Williams’ SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER at Old Academy. Director Rob Rosiello’s introduction was perfect, providing a little background about the playwright and how this lesser known play holds its own importance. Watching this play through the lens of “truth” was an excellent suggestion.
Central character Sebastian Venable is dead before the action begins, yet stays firmly anchored at the center of the story. Who is he? Iron-plated matriarch Violet (Sandra Hartman) paints her son as a brilliant, undiscovered soul, a superior being above the touch of the insignificant mortals around him. Hartman’s Violet is a steely force with a thin veneer of southern sweetness. She is determined to create her own reality and has no hesitation about sacrificing anyone or anything that gets in her way. Equal and opposite to Violet in her desire to grapple with the truth is Catherine (Caitlin Riley), who knew Sebastian well too, in an unvarnished way that Violet cannot accept. Riley’s Catherine is shaky, and medicated, and browbeaten and somehow every bit as strong as Violet. Is the stronger truth the crafted, sculpted version, or the stark, exposed skeletal one?
Violet presents her case first as she attempts to woo and recruit Dr. Cukrowicz (Brian Jason Kelly) into accepting her point of view. Kelly conveys solid professionalism as he listens and gently questions his hostess. He is bathed in graciousness, until he asks a challenging question and gets a glimpse of Violet’s claws. Miss Foxhill (Dale Mezzacappa), however, is an unquestioned ally. Mezzacappa is the ideal loyal retainer, always ready to serve her mistress.
Arriving on the scene before Catherine are her mother Grace (Susan Triggiani) and brother George (Lee Stover). Dependent relations, Catherine’s family are anchored in their own truth – they are not well off and want Catherine to bow to Violet’s will. Triggiani is pleading and deferential, presenting a Grace who is doing what she thinks will work best for her son. In her own way, she is as eager to promote her son’s status as Violet is. Clearly enjoying his role, Stover’s George is initially self-serving and whiny, though not as shallow has he first appears.
Finally, Catherine and her nurse, Sister Felicity (Emma Shope) appear. Shope is a calming, serene presence whose main concern is Catherine’s welfare, a bookend to Miss Foxhill. All the action takes place in one act on a lovely, seemingly simple garden set. The canvas does not change, but each person attempting to display truth creates a different picture with his or her words. Watch for the similarities, and differences, between an earlier vacation, and Sebastian’s final journey. Perhaps truth is also allegorical?
Like all good plays, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER leaves one with much to mull and discuss. The director and cast have given us great performances, and much to think about.
Show dates run through March 19th. Tickets available online or at the door. Old Academy Players, 340-44 Indian Queen Lane, Philadelphia PA 19129 (215) 843-1109
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