Curtain Call: "Summer and Smoke"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

When Tory Matsos enters the Thurber Theatre stage as Alma Winemiller, she is already in the throes of a panic attack.

We've already seen the rakishly cool Kevin McClatchy lurking in the shadows as newly minted doctor, and veteran debauchee, John Buchanan, Jr. And because Summer and Smoke is a play by Tennessee Williams, we can already sense that things are not going to end well for either of them.

Alma and her minister father have had to care for her mentally debilitated mother, a situation that has robbed Alma of her youth and made her, in Williams' words, "prematurely spinsterish."

In her hometown of Glorious Hills, Mississippi, she is regarded as affected and high-strung. Matsos captures both Alma's nervous giggles and her repressed sexuality with an insistence that occasionally borders on the ludicrous, against which Williams warned in his stage directions. This Alma's longing for John is palpable.

Lean and handsome, McClatchy was born to play characters such as John, underwritten though he might be. Both Matsos and McClatchy are careful to show us the two sides of their respective characters so that their eventual transformations make some sense.

Summer and Smoke can be regarded as a kind of cross between the poetry of The Glass Menagerie and the brutality of A Streetcar Named Desire. Each of these Williams works has a delicacy that all too easily slips into silliness if not played with the proper balance. Director Jimmy Bohr and his cast don't always achieve this, resulting in a bit too much giggling going on - not all of it on stage.

The meeting of Alma's literary circle is played so much for laughs, it blunts the intended impact of her reading of William Blake's "Love's Secret" ("Never seek to tell thy love ..."). When John's noble father (Alan Woods) meets his unfortunate fate, it comes off almost farcically.

Victor E. Shonk's three-part set functions well. To the audience left, the Winemiller rectory; to the right, the Buchanan doctor's office; between them, a park dominated by a stone fountain of an angel.

The resemblance to a religious triptych is no accident, either in Shonk's execution or in Williams' notes. The intentional symbolism in this play extends from Alma's name (Spanish for "soul") to the anatomical diagram hanging in the doctor's office. The original title of the play, after all, was Chart of Anatomy.

When it comes to staging a Williams poem, care must be taken not to overemphasize the symbolism, not to overdo the giggle, not to overdramatize the panic attack. An extra measure of care would have assisted these particular star-crossed lovers.

"Summer and Smoke"

Where: Drake Performance Center, Campus

When: Through Nov. 21