Vagabond's 'Last Summer' is disappointing

April 16, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing Writer

The awful truth about what happened one torrid summer to a cruel member of a prominent New Orleans family is the crux of Tennessee Williams' disturbing work, "Suddenly Last Summer," being staged by the Vagabond Players through May 3.

As directed by Susan Kramer, who also designed the busy set and plays a major role, the Vagabond production is a disappointing one. The actors' interpretations, with a few exceptions, are superficial, and there is little dramatic tension and sensitive character motivation.

Kramer decided to highlight the script written by Williams in collaboration with Gore Vidal for the 1959 film adaptation (starring Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor) instead of adhering to the original stage play.

Kramer has also interjected parts of the movie's sound track, featuring the mellifluous voice of Clift as the doctor, which contrasts jarringly with the limited talents of Scott Christiansen, who has been miscast in this strong role.

Set in 1935 New Orleans, the entire play takes place in the wildly primitive jungle garden of the late poet Sebastian Venable. A rich, spoiled, self-indulgent parasite who used others ruthlessly for his own immediate pleasure, Sebastian has met with an ironically violent death.

Sebastian's wealthy, autocratic mother, Violet Venable, is as dangerously obsessed with her son in death as she was in life.

Violet is taking desperate measures to curb the tongue of her niece, Catherine Holly, the only observer of the horrible details of Sebastian's final moments. The girl is under the care of Dr. Cukrowicz at the nearby sanitarium. The doctor is conducting tests in what he calls "psycho surgery" -- a questionable method of "quieting patients down."

It is this procedure that Violet wants Catherine to undergo so that the memory of Sebastian's demise will be stricken from her mind.

In the Vagabond show, actors constantly block other actors and the pace is plodding -- not suspenseful.

Barbara Brickman has the chilling role of Mrs. Venable. But in Brickman's perfunctory performance there are no dual emotions of surface civility vying with the sure madness lurking beneath. We never see the fragile thread that holds this obsessive, imperialistic woman together.

Kramer's Catherine is too earthy, pragmatic and aggressive. The actress lacks the sensitivity of her haunted character. We do not witness an outer flippancy covering an inner nervousness. As a result, Kramer's final monologue lacks any spellbinding qualities.

On the other hand, Roberta Rooney, as Catherine's timorous mother, is excellent. Rooney reacts beautifully in character and we feel her fear and confusion.

Craig Newell as Catherine's indolent brother, George, also turns in a fine performance.


The 1867 melodrama, "Under the Gaslight," by Augustin Daly and revised by director John Manlove, concludes tonight in the Mainstage Theatre of Towson State University.

The post-Civil War play has several clever set changes and some good special effects which include a moving boat and speeding locomotive.

A large cast in period costume tell the story of a wronged heroine who triumphs in the end. Manlove has inserted a hodgepodge of songs of the era and other periods to enliven the show. But the modern song additions are distracting.

With his insertion of 10 plaintive war songs at the end of the first act, Manlove broke the proper comedic mood and has created another story which has nothing to do with Daly's farce.

Also, the important last scene of the play fizzles, giving way to a maudlin, unrelated flag-waving tribute to the future. With these two unnecessary insertions and other superfluous additions, the purity of the old melodrama form as a learning -- and entertaining -- experience for the student actors and the audience is unfortunately obscured.

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