Total Theater Review
“Director Dana Jackson deserves high praise for having put together this well-acted, handsome-looking production of Williams’s bitter-sweet but strong and compassionate rewrite of Summer and Smoke” – Total Theater
Opened: June 18, 2016
Pacific Resident Theater has celebrated its 30th anniversary by mounting The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Tennessee Williams’s revision of his 1950s play Summer and Smoke. Williams has said that he preferred Eccentricities over Smoke because “it is less conventional and melodramatic.” He also added that Alma Winemiller is his favorite character.
This time around, Alma (strong, lustrous performance by Ginna Carter) is a more active character, fighting as best she can to win the heart of her girlhood crush, Dr John Buchanan (Andrew Dits). The handsome young man has just returned to Glorious Hill, Mississippi, shortly before WW I, after having graduated from John Hopkins University.
In Summer and Smoke, John is the catalytic force in the play, keen on introducing the wan, virginal Alma to the pleasures of the flesh. In Nightingale, it’s Alma who wants to take him to bed, even though she knows he doesn’t love her the way she loves him. Alma might be nervous, excitable, and eccentric (especially when she has to speak and sing in public), but she can laugh at herself, stand up for herself.
John is made of softer stuff, though, putty in the hands of his domineering, snobbish mother (Rita Obermeyer). She wants her golden boy to marry a socially prominent, elegant, upper-class girl, and not the frumpy daughter of the Reverend Winemiller (Brad Greenquist), who is not only poor and dour but has a batty mother in the attic (Mary Jo Deschanel). To his credit, John always treats Alma with respect and affection, having long recognized just what a unique, deeply feeling, highly intelligent person she is.
Williams writes about them with delicacy and understanding, particularly in the key scene of the play, when Alma persuades John to take her to a hotel room in Tiger Town, the seedy part of Glorious Hill. The way Williams probes character here, deals with the complexities of their relationship, brings out all their strengths and weaknesses, is quite astounding, the work of a truly great playwright.
The drama in Eccentricities of a Nightingale is on the muted, quiet side. There are flashes of humor, though, especially in the scene where Alma and a handful of local art-lovers meet to discuss a William Blake poem and help write a “manifesto.” Williams’s satire of these genteel, slightly pretentious but well-meaning folk is enjoyable and humorous.
Director Dana Jackson deserves high praise for having put together this well-acted, handsome-looking production of Williams’s bitter-sweet but strong and compassionate rewrite of Summer and Smoke.
Cast: Ginna Carter, Andrew Dits, Brad Greenquist, Rita Obermeyer, Mary Jo Deschanel, Paul Anderson, Joan Chodorov, Choppy Guilotte, Amy Huntington, Derek Chariton
Set: Kis Knekt; Lighting: Ken Booth; Sound: Christopher Moscatiello; Costumes: Christine Cover Ferro
Critic: Willard Manus