“Suddenly Last Summer”: a short review of The Collective Face’s production of Tennessee Williams’ sordid classic

Walking into Muse Arts Warehouse for The Collective Face production of Suddenly Last Summer, one is immediately struck by the sprawling decadence of the set — a garden next to a crumbling old greenhouse filled with several dozen plants. It’s a “well-groomed jungle,” according Dr. Cukrowicz (played here with appropriate formality, over-confidence, and innocence by Richie Cook).

The Venus Flytrap is center stage.

The outer world is just a reflection of the dark passions of the characters’ psyches — and of the playwright’s.

Those unfamiliar with Suddenly Last Summer will find plenty of the usual Tennessee Williams themes: repressed — or at least hidden — homosexuality; naked greed; the fading of some illusion of Southern charm into sordid desires and declining fortunes; a looming threat of incest; both praise and mockery of the poetic impulse.

The true main character in this play never makes it onstage: the wealthy, aging, pretentious, tortured, and promiscuous Sebastian Venable died last summer, and now his mother Violet has set out to have his cousin Catherine lobotomized to stop her from telling the mad but true story of his death. Dandy Barrett and Maggie Lee Hart are excellent as mother and cousin, respectively, both of whom have an emptiness at their cores that they tried to fill up with Sebastian.

Under David Poole’s direction, the rest of the cast is excellent too — David Bonham as Catherine’s brother George, Mickey Dodge as Catherine’s mother, Julie Kessler as the severe nun who has accompanied Catherine from a private mental hospital, and Lynita Spivey as Violet’s cowed assistant.

But the play depends on the tensions between the four main characters — Catherine, Violet, Dr. Cukrowicz, and the missing Sebastien. In just over 80 minutes (no intermission), the production gathers force before the cathartic — if perhaps overly quick — climax.

Please note that there are just two more productions next weekend — October 19th and 20th (plus an 8 p.m. show on Sunday the 14th).

And here for the heck of it is the amazing trailer from the film version, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift:

And a photo of the set embedded from Facebook. I sat in the front row just in front of that small metal table — a spot I’d highly recommend.