by Tennessee Williams
Jericho Arts Centre
September 9 - October 2
604 224 8007, ext. 2
Tennessee Williams sure had issues. But he managed to transform
them into great art in plays like The
Glass Menagerie and A
Streetcar Named Desire.
Suddenly Last Summer isn’t in their league. It’s
more a sketch than a fully developed play. But it has the
signature Tennessee Williams style and tells the familiar, autobiographically-driven
story of an overbearing mother, fragile sister, and gay artist/son
struggling to survive in a devouring world.
a decaying 1930s New Orleans garden we meet wealthy old Mrs. Venable
and a young doctor whose Polish name means sugar. Sweet
Dr. Sugar’s specialty is giving lobotomies to criminal psychopaths,
and Mrs. Venable is trying to convince him to ply his trade on
her niece Catherine.
has been telling a sordid story about the death on a Spanish beach
of Mrs. Venable’s
beloved son, Sebastian. He
was a poet and a seeker after God who had spent 25 summers traveling
together with his mother to elite resorts. But suddenly last summer
Mrs. Venable had fallen ill and Catherine had replaced her as Sebastian’s
companion. Mrs. V accuses Catherine of causing Sebastian’s
death and slandering his reputation.
Catherine has been locked up in a lunatic asylum. Now Dr.
Sugar will force her to tell the truth about Sebastian, a truth
so ugly that she may pay for it by having her brain cut out!
Williams never shied away from melodrama nor was he subtle with
symbolism. The centrepiece of Sebastian’s garden is
a Venus flytrap. The play’s Darwinian world abounds
with predatory images: lions and wolves, shrieking, flesh-eating
birds feasting on newly hatched turtles. And a pack of naked, feral
young boys tearing apart the man who preyed on them.
Catherine’s slightly cartoonish mother and brother try to
intervene between her and Mrs. Venable out of self-interest, but
the play is ultimately a ghoulish duel between the two women for
possession of dead Sebastian’s memory.
It’s a mismatch on paper but Williams evens the odds, and
Stephane Kirkland’s United Players production pits two worthy
adversaries against each other with the doctor, nicely understated
by Daniel Thomas, an effective referee.
Played by Brenda McDonald, Mrs. Venable is tiny, elderly and physically
fragile. But she’s rich and powerful enough to command
sweet Doctor Lobotomy. In an excellent performance, MacDonald
mounts a ferocious attack with the precise intention of a mother
who will never let go of her son, even in death.
Also fine is Cherise Clarke, whose sultry Catherine has the desperate,
drugged quality of a young Blanche Dubois. Jumpy as a cat
on a hot tin roof (Williams thought up the best titles), she makes
the harsh, hallucinatory truths of Sebastian’s sordid story,
and her own, compelling enough to trump even a mother’s blind,