Article Title:Suddenly Last Summer at the Silo
Author or Credit:John Curry
Published on:27th May 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:746
Text:Review: Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams Dir: Shane Bosher Silo Theatre, Auckland, until June 10. 80 mins; no interval. As a movie, Suddenly Last Summer was one of the campest classics in the gay firmament! There's lesbian icon Katie Hepburn, her first entrance providing the inspiration for Frankenfurter's first entrance in the Rocky Horror movie. There's everyone's favourite fag hag, Liz Taylor, with her bosom buddy, the closeted and tormented Montgomery Clift along for the ride. Not forgetting Linda Blair's potty mouth stand-in, Mercedes McCambridge. And how about that cross-dressing suicide Albert Dekker! No wonder Violet Venable's hothouse was hot! With more venus flytraps than there are in heaven... If the theme of the son-obsessed, control-queen mom (with absent-father substitute, a psychiatrist) doesn't get your taste buds bubbling, how about the nasty, nasty theme of legitimate 'corrective' medical intervention for those who are just that little bit different? And the Silo folk said, in Garth George's favourite rag, that they were using the film script rather than the play script - which was co-authored by none other than Myra Breckinridge's daddy, Gore Vidal! Hang on to your glass of Pansy wine, I mused, as I approached the Silo Theatre, we're in for a bumpy ride! Well... no bumps. Not one. This is an elegant, lucid production, possibly too lucid for its own good. As Violet Venable, Jacque Drew is a suitably mesmerising black widow spider. She's charming, elegant and obviously wealthy, and she delivers the famous Encantadas monologue as a piece of the play, not as a grandstanding solo. Here, she is helped by the unfailingly sympathetic playing of Jeff Szusterman as Dr Sugar. Toni Potter also handles the memory aspect of the play beautifully, particularly when playing her cousin Sebastian. Earlier, though, her tale of humiliation at the dance, while fascinating, could do with a little more pointing - we're not quite sure who it is she's talking about. Jacqueline Nairn is definitely a nurse you wouldn't want to cross, but she never becomes a cliche. When she and Szusterman get to play Catharine's mum and brother, unleashing some much appreciated energy, again they avoid falling into caricature. All of the actors display a breath-taking ease in speaking Tennessee Williams' words, particularly in the way they have worked out the rhythmic patterns of his speeches - what Christopher Isherwood called 'his southern drawl and wild talk'. Sherilyn Catchpole's costumes are a big help in setting the period, given the sparse staging, and do a lot to create the right atmosphere, both for the world of Mrs Venable and the world of the hospital. Andrew McMillan's 'composition' rumbles away in the background, marred only by one irritatingly obvious cymbal sound. Paul Nicoll's lighting design is a bit too stark for my tastes, casting some unfortunate shadows (unavoidable at this venue?) but there are some helpful mood swings, particularly the candy pink light that accompanies Catharine's sudden attempt to seduce the doctor. In my opinion, the production could have done with more of this 'expressionism'. But Mr Bosher is definitely a director to cherish. His ability to both shape the material and yet allow the actors to display such comfortableness with their roles is both an admirable and an all too rare talent. He is also true to the author's material. His set design, however, stresses the sky aspect of the play - and it's here I have a niggle. I wanted to see more of the hothouse, the forced artificial world of growth and breeding, the sort of world that gave birth to Sebastian and his mother. And the play needs to increase in pace towards the end; become, dare I say it, crazier. Mr Williams himself spoke of 'the atmosphere of hysteria and violence' in his writing. There's just a bit too much carefulness here. Also, the ambiguity of memory is missing because the play is completely on the side of Catharine; and, for me, there's a lack of 'fruitiness' which robs the climax of its full grand guignol quality. On my gay interest meter, this play rates highly - because there are still people around who would love to get their hands on us and make us more 'peaceful' and less 'disturbing'. John Curry - 27th May 2005    
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