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Suddenly Last Summer
Review by Polly Warfield, Theatre Reviews, Drama-Logue

This short, passionate, intense play combines realism and fantasy, offers suspense and deadly conflict, and contains some of the playwrights most lyrical dialogue. It pours forth like white-hot lava from the seething depths of Tennessee Williamsí volcanic talent, as if dashed off in one sitting. It is lush with tropical undergrowth, misty and miasmic vapors. It flirts with Grand Guignol horror. A strain of madness runs through it. Not a bad choice for Halloween.

When staged as it is here, it is also clearly seen to be, theatrically speaking, a gem. Nick DeGruccio, who distinguished himself with his light touch, the right touch, in his direction of the Colonyís award-winning musical spoof, City of Angels, now proves he can give a Tennessee Williams classic the power and passion it demands.

An aging Southern belle, now a grande dame accustomed to having her way, Mrs. Venable is determined that her niece Catherine shall undergo a lobotomy. The girl is telling wild tales about the death of Mrs. Venableís son Sebastian. The mother enshrines him in memory as a poet, paragon, prince. Catherineís story of Sebastianís horrible death one white-hot afternoon last summer on the exotic beach of Cabeza de Lobo surely proves the girl insane. Mrs. Venable is not above bribery to stop her babbling: she offers nice young Dr. Cukrowiez (the name means "sugar" in Polish ó Tennessee does have fun with words) a generous sum for his medical work. She makes her meaning clear: "After the operation, who will believe her?" She is justified because "The girl is a destroyer. My son was a creator."

Though completely traumatized by what she has experienced, Catherine will not be silenced. Her terrible story gushes forth: the doctor seems convinced she tells the truth. (Certainly the audience is convinced.) At playís end, Catherineís fate is uncertain, but her story is told. Sebastian was a poet, also a poet of compelling sexual appetite, who went hunting for beautiful youths in faraway places. On the beach at Cabeza de Lobo last summer, he was devoured by a flock of clawing, voracious boys in a wild cannibalistic orgy. Catherine must live with the memory of it.

The two strong women are strongly portrayed. Sandra Kinderís Mrs. Venable, of flinty resolve and autocratic hauteur, is exquisitely groomed in garden-party pink lace (slippers died to match). Though she uses a cane and a wheelchair, thereís steel in her spine. Melissa Hansonís helpless, traumatized poor relation Catherine is no pushover either. Her distinctive loose-hinged manner of walking, a kind of undulation, proclaims her core of independence. Itís a kind of defiant swagger.

Kinder and Hanson are both terrific. The supporting cast is excellent as well. Kelly Foranís quietly sympathetic doctor is a perfect foil for the womenís flamboyance. Tony Sawyer as Catherineís mousy mother Mrs. Holly is a magnolia blossom Southern lady. Greg Foran is Catherineís weaselly brother George, eager to compromise for securityís sake. Judith A. Goldstein is Mrs. Venableís helpful handmaiden Miss Foxhill. Theresa Layne, in nunís habit, is Sister Felicity, Catherineís keeper and caretaker from the sanitarium.

John Patrickís set design adapts The Matchmakerís set into the lovely iron-lace garden room of a 1936 New Orleans Victorian mansion. Sound by Chris Thomas and original music by Brian Howe are first-rate, as is the lighting by Steph Kinder and Peter Falco. Bonita Friedericyís costumes proclaim her not only a good actress but one with a special sense of style who can combine character definition with physical enhancement.

Copyright Drama-Logue
Reprinted with Permission
Suddenly Last Summer at the Colony Theatre