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The current Peace College Theatre presentation of Suddenly Last Summer, one of the most disturbing Southern gothic dramas of Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (1911-93), boasts two Triangle stars of the first magnitude, Lynda Clark and Derrick Ivey, in its leading roles. Clark plays Violet Venable, a high-strung New Orleans society matron of the mid-1930s distraught over the untimely death of her beloved 25-year-old son Sebastian; and Ivey portrays Dr. Cukrowwicz, an affable Polish psychiatrist who insists that his patients call him “Dr. Sugar,” rather than mangle his difficult-to-pronounce surname.
Mrs. Venable is a woman on a mission from hell. She is determined to persuade, convince, cajole, bribe — even browbeat — Dr. Sugar into institutionalizing and then lobotomizing Catharine Holly (Peace College sophomore Kristal DeSantis), Sebastian’s emotionally fragile cousin and travel companion last summer when he died violently abroad. Clark plays Venable as a woman obsessed with and virtually consumed by revenge: a veritable wildcat in a cage, throwing herself — claws extended — time after time against the bars of the brittle cage of sanity.
Violet Venable’s smoldering resentment about being replaced last summer, after she had a mild stroke, as her son’s travel companion threatens to burst into flames at any moment. She irrationally blames Catharine Holly for her son’s death, because Catharine wasn’t strong enough to prevent Sebastian from exercising some of his baser urges or to fend off the frenzied mob that pursued and murdered and partially devoured him.
Kristal DeSantis does a good job of playing a soiled dove, deflowered against her will by an aging roué after a party in New Orleans; and then forced to help her cousin Sebastian seduce the young men and boys he craved on the Continent. Severely traumatized by Sebastian’s ghastly behavior and grisly death, Catharine is overwrought; and she trembles before her powerful aunt’s efforts to have part of her brain surgically destroyed and have her put away for the rest of her life in a shabby state institution for the mentally ill, so she cannot tell what she knows about Sebastian’s last days of debauchery.
DeSantis is quite convincing as an emotionally unstable young woman just a blink away from going to pieces; and Derrick Ivey adds a charismatic characterization of the troubled psychiatrist who must determine whether Catharine Holly should, for all intents and purposes, have her personality and most of her emotions obliterated by the surgeon’s knife.
The show’s strong supporting cast includes Peace College senior Kathryn Fuller and London-trained actor David Hudson, who play Catharine’s mother and brother; Peace sophomore Fantasy Lozada, who portrays Sister Felicity, a concerned nun who looks after Catharine; and Peace College Theatre veteran Sarah Thomas, who makes several brief appearances as Mrs. Venable’s much-abused nurse, Miss Foxhill.
PCT director Dr. Kenny C. Gannon gets the best that each and every cast member has to offer. Moreover, he deftly orchestrates the intensity of the powerful feelings unleashed during this taut 85-minute show, which is performed without intermission. Under Gannon’s sure-handed direction, the depths of the characters’ emotions are plumbed, but the actors never go over the top.
The show unfolds on another magnificent set by Peace alumna and PCT resident scenic designer Sonya Drum. This one vividly recreates a patio in a garden surrounded by the moldy, vine-covered walls of an expensive home in the Garden District of New Orleans. Actress Lynda Clark, who doubles as the show’s costume designer, does an excellent job of outfitting the cast in period fashions that accentuate portions of their characters’ personalities. The exceptional efforts of technical designer Curtis Jones, lighting designer Jennifer Becker, and props mistress Melissa Maxwell also help make the present Peace College Theatre production of Suddenly Last Summer a drama to remember.
Peace College Theatre presents Suddenly Last Summer Friday-Saturday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in the Leggett Theater on the second floor of Main Building, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $10 ($5 students). 919/508-2051 or e-mail email@example.com. Peace College Theatre: http://www.peace.edu/theatre/ [inactive 9/07]. Tennessee Williams: http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/williams_tennessee/ [inactive 10/05].
Suddenly Last Summer (Peace College Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23, and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in the Leggett Theater on the second floor of Main Building, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, NC) is a collegiate production of the powerful drama by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams (1911-83). Kenny C. Gannon, who staged Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy this summer, will direct a cast that includes Triangle stars Lynda Clark and Derrick Ivey, plus David Byron Hudson, Kathryn Fuller, Kristal DeSantis, Sarah Thomas, and Fantasy Lozada. In the New York Herald-Tribune, Walter Kerr wrote: " This, says Mr. Williams through the most sympathetic voice among his characters, 'is a true story about the time and the world we live in.' He has made it seem true — or at least curiously and suspensefully possible — by the extraordinary skill with which he has wrung detail after detail out of a young woman who has lived with horror. Anne Meacham, as a girl who has been the sole witness to her cousin's unbelievably shocking death, is brought into a 'planned jungle' of a New Orleans garden to confront a family that is intensely interested in having her deny the lurid tale she has told. The post-dilettante's mother is, indeed, so ruthlessly eager to suppress the facts that she had the girl incarcerated in a mental institution and she is perfectly willing, once she finishes her ritualistic five o'clock frozen daiquiri, to order the performance of a frontal lobotomy. A nun stands in rigid attendance; a doctor prepares a hypodermic to force the truth; greedy relatives beg her to recant in return for solid cash. Under the assorted, and thoroughly fascinating, pressures that are brought to bear, and under the intolerable, stammering strain of reliving her own memories, Miss Meacham slowly, painfully, hypnotically paints a concrete and blistering portrait of loneliness — of the sudden snapping of that spider's web that is one man's life, of ultimate panic and futile flight. The very reluctance with which the grim, hopeless narrative is unfolded binds us to it; Mr. Williams threads it out with a spare, sure, sharply vivid control of language — and the spell is cast." The show's design team includes Sonya Drum, Jennifer Becker, Curtis Jones, Lynda Clark, and Katie Ware. For more information about Peace College, visit http://www.peace.edu/. For tickets, telephone 919/508-2051 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.