The scenery displays the outer facade of a mansion and adjoining garden in the Garden District of New Orleans, sometime between late-summer and early-fall of 1936. This was a time in America when the wealthy flourished, while poorer folks held onto whatever shreds of hope they could find. The set design, like the detail and fervent language in this one-act play by Tennessee Williams, is immaculate. Lush greenery, chirping cicadas, a sensual nude statute presiding over the soothing lull of a fountain—every inch pulls you into the story punctuated by pitch perfect Southern charm.
Raven Theatre’s production of Suddenly Last Summer is fiercely entertaining. The cast delivers a raw story about the savage and dark corners of Darwinian tendencies. You can’t help but enjoy the viscous family matriarch, Violet Venable (played hilariously by Mary K. Nigohosian). Violet had an alarmingly close relationship with her now deceased son, Sebastian, and her delusional dysfunction is just as interesting as her appetite for destruction.
At once tragic and undone, Grayson Heyl creates the perfect failed Southern debutante, Catherine, whom Violet keeps conveniently tucked away in a private mental asylum. Violet wants her niece to undergo a lobotomy, fearful that Catherine will reveal secrets about Sebastian’s homosexuality and the mysterious way he died in Spain. Like all good villains, Violet is plotting an evil path, with a desire to persuade a psychiatrist (Wardell Julius Clark) to perform a lobotomy on her niece, in exchange for financial contributions toward his medical research.
Violet’s tête-à-tête is interrupted by Catherine’s mother and brother (wonderful character work and comic timing from Ann James and Andrew Rathgeber), two destitute relatives seeking their share of Sebastian’s will. They are followed by an out-of-sorts Catherine and an overly attentive nun from the asylum.
Things come to a dramatic explosion as the doctor gives Catherine truth serum and she spills her story out in front of all, like a catastrophic flood that can’t be stopped. In true Williams fashion, the play is highly symbolic. Williams uses cannibalism to suggest how stronger humans devour the weak in a savage feast of folly. This reference is the most salient point of the play. The actors tackle the lyrical language of the play fearlessly, and strong character work makes it a compelling 90 minutes.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
May 11th- June 17th
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
6157 N. Clark Ave
Ayanna Bria Bakari
Wardell Julius Clark
Mary K. Nigohosian
Cole von Glahn
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author
See her current work on Facebook