Suddenly Last Summer
Written by: Tennessee Williams
Directed by: Emily K. Brown
Gryphon Theatre, 20th Oct 2021
Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus
As a 90-minute one-act play, this rarely performed work by American great Tennessee Williams is unusual. His work is always intense and lyrical and this piece is especially so. Its language is visceral and violent and yet devastatingly beautiful.
Society doyenne Violet has invited to her home a young doctor hoping to benefit from her philanthropy to discuss performing a lobotomy on Catherine, Violet’s young niece. Catherine was the only witness to the death of Violet’s son Sebastian and shutting her away in a mental hospital run by nuns hasn’t been enough to stop her babbling about what happened suddenly last summer in Spain when he met his end.
It’s tempting to resort to histrionics when performing Williams, but the excellent cast, under the careful direction of Emily K. Brown, exercise restraint in their performances which are all the more powerful because of it. As Catherine, Margot van de Water is astounding. We are left in no doubt as to the trauma caused by what she has witnessed and when she reveals the gruesome truth about Sebastian’s death, it is truly shocking.
Stephanie Gartrell clearly enjoys inhabiting the daiquiri-swilling shrew that is Violet and as the earnest Dr Cukrowicz, Slaine McKenzie excels. Helen Mackenzie and Finn Nacey provide energetic and petulant support as grasping relatives. Simran Rughani and Maria Buchanan make the most of their smaller roles as housemaid and nun.
The simple garden set with its lush pot plants and creeping ivy provides an appropriately sub-tropical background to the narrative. Whoever painted the floor deserves a special mention for their beautifully rendered flagstones.
The lighting (Riley Gibson) is exceptionally well designed and responsive to the action on stage and the wardrobe (Mandy Watkins and Cara Ngajar) is lush and period appropriate.
Everything about this production is polished and professional, which is even more impressive when you consider that the country went into COVID lockdown a week from its original opening in August. Full marks, Wellington Repertory Theatre.