By Suzy Williams
This engaging Tennessee Williams play is probably his most ambitious. Purported to be a reworking of his hit, Summer and Smoke, he takes on subjects like the sacred and the profane, cosmos and microcosmos, anarchy and order, and the complexities of sexual attraction and social tropes and pressures. It’s BIG, I tell you!
Set a century ago, the play is dominated by the personality of singer Alma Winemiller (intensely portrayed by Ginna Carter), a trembling, post ante-bellum, anti-Southern Belle. She has an artist’s pained soul. With fluttering hands and an almost too radiant smile, Miss Carter, in the first act, puts us on Alma’s side. We’re rooting for her to win over the charming and handsome young Doctor John Buchanan (disarmingly played by Andrew Ditz), the boy next door all her life. In the second act, however, we feel pushed away by her increased desperation for him.
Like Laura in The Glass Menagerie, and Blanche Dubois in Streetcar Named Desire, Alma is a highly sensitive woman, burdened with a choking, reaching love for life that exceeds her grasp, and she falls. Williams said in a 1973 interview that of all his creations, Alma was his favorite. He gives her such lines as: “I’ve had to bite my tongue so much, it’s a wonder I have one left!” And: “I see rainbows from the snow on my eyelashes, and the trees are like upside-down chandeliers.” And: “True marriage requires transcendental tenderness.”
The essence of the play is expressed in one sentence by young Doctor Buchanan: “What’s the matter, Alma?” Of course, everything’s the matter. Her family is a mess; her mother has gone insane, her father rejects her; her aunt has burned to death; she’s hopelessly in love with her interviewer. By the end, she seems to have leveled out emotionally, but she’s heading for a cliff.
Rita Obermeyer plays the young doctor’s mother, Mrs. Buchanan. She’s imposing as the domineering matron who keeps her son on a tight leash, and does so with insidious southern charm.
Praises to the set designer, Kis Knekt, for the watery, Gothic imagery coupled with period furniture. Excellent costumes by Christine Cover Ferro. Dana Jackson gets the highest praises as the director of this fine, fine production.
8 pm Thursdays and Saturdays, 3 pm Sundays, through August 14. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd.