`Summer and Smoke' lights up Saint Mary's stage
By MARY ANNE LEWIS
On March 26, 1911, Thomas Lanier Williams was born in Columbus, Miss.
"Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?", an essay published in "Smart Set," appeared just 16 years later. This marked Williams' first publishing triumph and earned him $5.
For the next 56 years, his life would grace the world with priceless literary masterpieces, the most famous of which would be his plays.
Tennessee Williams took hold of his title as a playwright of excellence when he won the Group Theater Prize of $100 for American Blues and received a $1,000 Rockefeller grant in 1939. World War II defined the backdrop of Williams' most famous play, "The Glass Menagerie," which ran in 1944 and 1945 in both Chicago and in New York on Broadway. Through this piece, Williams won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award as the best play of the season. Then, in 1948, Tennessee Williams created "Summer and Smoke."
This work of uniquely-Williams genius joins the Notre Dame/Saint Mary's community for four short days. From April 13 through April 16, "Summer and Smoke" will serve as the feature attraction at the Moreau Center/Little Theatre as Saint Mary's presents this tour de force for their 1999 - 2000 Theatre & Dance Season.
In "Summer and Smoke," Dr. John Buchanan tells Miss Alma, "We're trying to find something, but we don't even know what it is." Such statements drive the play as they force the audience to question what course of action should be taken.
Tables turn with fate's cruel timing, and Williams leaves the audience with a choice between a tale of self-destruction or a tale of self-integration. See the show and decide what you have just witnessed.
Miss Alma has been in love with John her entire life. He, the handsome and dissolute son of the town's respected doctor, would never have imagined it — for the spinster does not seem capable of passion.
But she loves him and this love will change their lives forever, in ways that none of those involved could have anticipated.
A year ago, Katherine Sullivan, a professor who teaches a literary seminar on Tennessee Williams at Saint Mary's College, chose the play "Summer and Smoke" for this year's Theatre and Dance Season.
"I just felt that this was the right play to do. I think he writes beautiful women and we're a women's college," Sullivan said.
The play has a lyrical style, a Southern texture and a universal plot. Struggles, decisions, loneliness and souls reaching out to one another provide the audience with a basis from which they may identify with the characters.
Auditions began in January, and the crew has been working very hard since. The cast consists of Saint Mary's students, as well as several Notre Dame students and a student from Holy Cross. Extensive rehearsing, work on accents and an unfathomable amount of time has been put into the play.
Ironically, the climax of the play comes in a time of silence. The scene shows Dr. John Buchanan circling Miss Alma; they stare into one another's eyes as the lights dance about them. In that moment, he realizes how desperately he needs her, and once again, "Alma's Theme" plays in the background.
"I think we have those moments in our lives, moments that define our lives, and they may not be with the person we end up with. But it's a moment of true connection, and I think it's a beautiful thing," Sullivan remarked.
Set in 1916, this tale is one of escape, whether it be from inhibitions, from poverty or even from oneself. Williams flashes parts of his own life in the play as the characters question choices concerning ideals that range from carnality to spirituality. There is romance, tragedy and open-endedness. In the end, Williams seems to ask another question rather than provide an answer.
All Scene Stories for Friday, April 14, 2000