Posts Tagged ‘suddenly last summer’

Suddenly Last Summer
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Tim Ocel
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis
September 7, 2023

Bradley Tejeda, Lisa Tejero
Photo by Suzy Gorman
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Suddenly Last Summer is perhaps one of Tennessee Williams’s lesser-known works, or at least, it’s not one of those shows that comes immediately to mind for most when the playwright’s name is mentioned, like A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It’s still a show that’s been written about a fair amount; studied and contemplated, as well as adapted into a well-regarded 1959 film. At this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival STL, this play takes center stage featuring a strong cast, especially in the three main leads, even though it can be talky at times, and the deliberate pacing requires a good deal of concentration until the disturbing but riveting conclusion.

An intriguing aspect of this play is the fact that much of the story revolves around a character who never appears onstage. The enigmatic, well-traveled poet Sebastian Venable was revered and idealized by his mother, Violet (Lisa Tejero), loved by his cousin Catherine Holly (Naima Randolph)–who was with Sebastian when he died–and mourned by both in their own ways since his death the previous summer under disputed circumstances. Violet, in fact, is so disturbed by Catherine’s story of what happened, that she has gone to great lengths to silence her niece, including having her committed to an asylum and enlisting the young Doctor Cucrowicz (Bradley Tejeda)–or “Dr. Sugar” as he is called–to give Catherine a lobotomy. The doctor insists on interviewing Catherine first, despite the ailing but ever determined Violet’s insistence that the procedure be done. Catherine’s financially struggling mother (Rengin Altay) and brother, George (Harrison Farmer), are there to encourage Catherine to change her story, worried that Violet will deny them an inheritance from Sebastian, but the doctor seems determined to hear the truth. And after a lot of evasion, threatening, and attempt to delay the inevitable, the story comes out in an explosive, highly emotional manner. I won’t say what the story is, but I will say this is an intense, highly symbolic story that takes a while to get where it’s going while it builds an atmosphere of fear, doubt, and encroaching terror, revealing the personalities and intentions of various characters while exploring the concepts of societal expectations, self-delusion, and the depths of human cruelty. 

There’s a lot here to think about, and the characters are well-drawn, especially Violet and Catherine, who are the main adversaries here; and Dr. Sugar serves as a strong sounding board for both, as he challenges Violet’s insistent assumptions and works with determined focus to hear the whole truth from Catherine. The cast is excellent–especially in the three leading roles, with Tejero giving an intense and complex portrayal of the difficult, smothering Violet, and Randolph matching her intensity as the troubled but determined Catherine, who especially commands the stage in the play’s riveting final moments. Tejeda is also convincing and engaging as the doctor, working well with both Tejero and Randolph. There’s also strong support from Altay and Farmer as Catherine’s mother and brother, as well as Ieshah Edwards as Catherine’s chaperone from the asylum, Sister Felicity, and Bethany Barr as Miss Foxhill, Violet’s frequently exasperated assistant and caregiver. 

Technically, the play does a good job of maintaining the look and atmosphere of the old, fading New Orleans Garden District estate of its setting, with a fairly simple set design by James Wolk, and especially striking lighting by Matthew McCarthy. The sound by Phillip Evans and original music by Henry Palkes also serve the story well, as do the period costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis. 

Suddenly Last Summer is another memorable mainstage entry from TWFSTL. Even though the story takes a while to really get going, it packs a strong emotional punch when Catherine’s story is finally allowed to be told. It’s not an easy story to take, but the telling is the highlight of the drama, and the sheer terror that has been building throughout. It’s an intense show, and not for all ages, but it’s well worth seeing especially for the truly stellar leading performances. 

Rengin Altay, Bradley Tejada, Naima Randolph, Lisa Tejero, Ieshah Edwards
Photo by Suzy Gorman
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis is presenting Suddenly Last Summer at COCA’s Berges Theatre until September 17, 2023

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