One of Tennessee Williams’ bleaker, darker plays,– the one-act dramatic cry of despair, Suddenly Last Summer (which was expanded beyond its more compressed scope in the famous Elizabeth Taylor film of the same name), played to a full-house as the latest offering from the highly experimental and exciting LGBTQ-focused Rainbow Theatre Project. As produced on Monday evening at the Source Theatre’s intimate space, this highly theatrical play was, indeed, a concert reading (books in hand) but such was the intensity of the playing by the cast that it played out as if it was practically a full-throttled, fully-memorized production.
As I have mentioned, the cast was very good and this must have also been due to Director Greg Stevens who elicited psychologically complex performances from each and every cast member. Set against a very minimalist backdrop, the actors themselves became all the scenery one needed to view for this short play was riveting from start to finish. Extreme themes of cannibalism, violence, lobotomy, promiscuity, and greed are inherent in the superlative spoken Williams’ text as well as in the unspoken glances and pauses of each actor in the ensemble.
As the domineering bastion of propriety, Mrs. Venable, Annie Houston is a marvel to behold. Houston is sublimely arrogant, wry and full of “no –nonsense.” Her movements are natural and authoritative, as she utilizes a wheelchair and walking cane in her role with ease. Houston’s emotional scene where she demands that her niece’s brain be “cut out” is especially striking (and one cannot help but think of Williams’ real-life Sister, Rose, who suffered similar tragedy). Houston possesses a velvety –smooth texture of vocal inflection that made listening to every line a delight to the ear.
Sara Barker as the justifiably highly –wrought character Catharine Holly, is uncanny in here ability to command attention during her several long monologues as the play’s climax approached. Barker did a very fine job with her Southern accent as well. Barker was especially good in these climatic scenes but she was no less interesting to watch as she spoke defiantly to the nun in charge of her care or reached out for understanding to her doctor.
Adam La Faci as Dr. Cukrowicz gave his all in a part that is very difficult to animate with emotion for this character is written in such a stolid manner. Credit must be given to La Faci who managed to imbue the part of the concerned Doctor with more real feeling than even poor Montgomery Clift could in the film. La Faci was very commanding in the scenes where he was called upon to be alternately patient and pensive.
As the brash and common Mrs. Holly, Erin Gallalee played with just the right touch of smug bourgeois attitude and facile demeanor. Daniel Corey as her son, George Holly, also played his part with those appropriate attributes as well as a macho bluster and sense of “puffed-up” confidence that perfectly evoked his wily character. (Just as a bit of a side-comment —Corey bears a very striking resemblance to the film actor, Jeremy Renner).
As Sister Felicity, the “oft-seen” and very talented Washington area actress Felicia Curry, brought the same discipline, well-crafted approach, and talent to her character. As she scolded and nagged, I could feel the pangs of every “ruler –on-the –knuckles” nun that I had ever encountered.
A “much to be applauded” technical element that added so much to the ambience of this production was the sensuously subtle and evocative Piano/Incidental music of Mr. Alex Tang (whose music added so much to the recent Gay Men’s Chorus production as well). Musical elements of birds chirping, cymbals and drums beating were also infused into the production for heightened effect.
Another very effective technical embellishment were the beautifully resonant line readings of Gillian Shelly Lawler as the Narrator/Chorus. Lines from the play garnered further effect when read by Ms. Lawler (as she accompanied the specific actor reading the same line).
At the conclusion of this unique and enjoyably unsettling play, a catharsis seemed to take over and the audience applauded with ebullience and appreciation. Director Stevens and his cast should be commended for this superb production and this looks like another winner for the Rainbow Theatre Project.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Prior to this presentation of Suddenly Last Summer, a new short play about institutionalized prejudice and bigotry in the military (based on fact) was presented by twelve fine actors under the Direction of Christopher Janson. Entitled Justice Disordered and written by the talented Dr. Samantha McDermitt, this short play explored the larger themes of Gender Identity Disorder, Institutionalized Discrimination, and the nuances of the Law/legal procedure.
This play was a more recent addition to the evening and I had not had much chance to explore the background of the piece. I must say that the play had much to offer in its very relevant exploration of topical issues approached in a manner that would make them more accessible and understandable to the individual theatergoer. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. McDermitt at the intermission and she said that she wanted to help make the often seemingly complex procedural technicalities of legal proceedings more human and comprehensible to the public. This brief but interesting play reading certainly did just that!
The twelve fine actors who participated in this play reading were Stacy King, Valerie Fenton, Ellen Young, Jennifer Reitz, Mary Suib, Peter Finnegan, Arthur Roach, Michael Sainte Andress, Desire DuBose, John Tweel, Joe Cronin, and MaryBeth Wise.
A very inspired way of merging Theatre with Fact! Dr. McDermitt’s theatrical innovations were well-handled by Director Janson and the cast! Bravos to the Rainbow Theatre Project!
Running Time: 30 minutes.
Justice Disordered and Suddenly Last Summer were presented by the Rainbow Theatre Project on Monday, February 22, 2016 at the Source Theatre – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For more information go to the Rainbow Theatre Project website.