Arts & Events
I've just persuaded Miss Alma to sing something for us." ... "Oh; would you prefer something profane or sacred?"
For Tennessee Williams' centennial, Aurora Theatre's chosen something unusual--not one of Williams' most canonical plays, really, much less a blockbuster (though a movie of it does exist): The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, a reworking of the material and characters from his better-known Summer and Smoke, the film of which starred Laurence Harvey and the exceptional Geraldine Page.
In many ways, it;'s summer without smoke. Some find Eccentricities refreshing after the in-your-face "symbolism" of the "original"--and the "remake" does seem to strive for more nuance, more breadth and depth ...
The Aurora production gets at some of the breadth, with an excellent supporting cast (Charles Dean, Amy Crumpacker, a particularly strong Marcia Pizzo as a smothering mother, Ryan Tasker, Leanne Borghesi and Beth Deitchman). Tom Ross, Aurora's artistic director, guides the show with an even hand--ironically enough, maybe too even.
But the dynamism of the original, with next door neighbors, in an early 20th century Misssissippi town--spinster Alma, minister's daughter, and John, libertine son of the local doctor--is defused here, with the remolding of John into a mama's boy, creating a passive character ... at any rate, Thomas Gorrebeeck played him that way ... who doesn't end up trading places with Alma in the same way as in Summer and Smoke--a one-sided "ships passing in the night" affair. Beth Wilmurt, despite some nice, brief moments, plays Alma rather caricaturishly, illustrating what others say about her in a "Mickey Mouse music" way, to use a Hollywood quip line.
Williams is always full of humor--some of this is achieved as comedy--but without the smoldering tensions, a crucial scene like the "tete-a-tete" upstairs in the roadhouse goes completely flat ... The two, not exactly star-crossed lovers, fiddle with "a fire that won't start"--and indeed, there's no chemistry, the vignette saved by Jim Cave's excellent lighting, which reignites the non-symbolic fire ...
Set (Liliana Duque Pinero), costumes in particular (Laura Hazlett) and sound (Ted Crimy) all contribute nuances which are also seen in the supporting cast, especially Pizzo as John's "doting"mother and Crumpacker's portrayal of Alma's disturbed--and mocking--mother. But a full treatment of Williams' special brand of nuance, of humor--and his sometimes-O'Neill-like shaggy dog story quality--would be needed to overcome the sketched-in quality of some of the parts ... The recurrent, never entirely explained story of Alma's "different" aunt and the fire at the Musee Mechanique in New Orleans is another, never seen (but told of) element which could be exploited more for Williams' characteristically teasing effect, often staged merely as "symbolism" again, something that dogs his memory and revivals of his plays.
Williams used to jar audiences at shows of his own plays, laughing raucously at the moments when the spectators would be either on the verge of tears or put off, taking the maudlin portrayal (of the "symbolism"?) as the playwright's intent.He found the awkward moment when adult masks slip a little from the querulous visage of the prim or rebellious character--and the resulting chagrin--as funny. A hundred years since his birth, and still one of our most mysteriously unique playwrights.