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Suddenly Last Summer ~ Avant Bard Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 4, 2020 

There’s something rather quaint about Tennessee Williams now.  His sultry Southern romances no longer seem shocking, though the stories are like listening to a fine storyteller spinning a yarn on the veranda of an old house on a steamy summer night.  They’re always captivating and, though we know it will not turn out well for the characters, we wait breathlessly to hear how they navigated turgid waters.

Erik Harrison as George Holly and Megan Morgan as Mrs. Holly in Avant Bard’s ‘Suddenly Last Summer.’ Photo by DJ Corey.

Set in New Orleans in 1935, Suddenly Last Summer reflects a time when electroshock therapy and lobotomies were still in style, when women got the vapors and took laudanum or cocaine and could be committed to an asylum by their husbands for postpartum depression.  Were they crazy or just “handled” in order to be disposed of?

In this story the beautiful and captivating Catherine Holly is holding up the dispersal of a large family inheritance with the telling of a shocking tale about how Mrs. Violet Venable’s son died in a rural Mexican beach town.  The problem is no one wants to hear it.  They hold a high position in society and, if the family doesn’t squelch her story, their reputations will be forever tarnished.  Nowadays there’s not so much attention paid to a few black sheep in a family.  But in that time, and in that place, one’s entire social standing in a community rested on their good name.

Sara Barker as Catherine Holly. Photo by DJ Corey.

Violet fancies her son, Sebastian, an aesthete – a poet and gardening enthusiast with little time for carnal pleasures.  They travel the world together and she becomes accustomed to the attention he garners for his looks and charm.  When Catherine replaces the sickly woman on his stylish adventures, Violet becomes enraged.  Catherine reveals to the others, the Sebastian’s dark side that Violet knew about, and even indulged, but was not willing to acknowledge.  Tragically, Catherine’s future as a free woman is at stake if she reveals the truth of the horrific way he died.  Jealousy and greed drive William’s extraordinary characters and remind us of how brilliant a playwright he was.

Under the fine direction of Christopher Henley, the play crackles with a terrific cast, most especially Cam Magee and Sara Barker who we loved in Avant Bard’s production of Emilie: La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight.

The play is preceded by a little-known, twenty-minute, two-person production also written by Tennessee Williams and called Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen. 

With Cam Magee as Mrs. Violet Venable; Matt Sparacino as Doctor Cukrowicz; Miss Kitty as Miss Foxhill; Erik Harrison as George Holly; Megan Morgan as Mrs. Holly; Sara Barker as Catherine Holly; and Christine Hirrel as Sister Felicity.

Scenic Design by David Ghatan; Lighting Design by Ian Claar; Costume Design by Anna Marquardt; and Sound Design by Clay Tuenis.

Through April 5th at Avant Bard Theatre, Gunston Hall Arts Center, Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.AvantBard.org/tickets or call the box office at 703.418.4808.

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