By: Ronnie Ruff
The Keegan Theatre has mounted not one, but two, Tennessee Williams one act plays at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington. I will discuss them in tandem here because they share much of same cast.
The first play performed is Portrait of a Madonna. Lucretia Collins (Sheri Herren) is the character that ultimately becomes Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire. Miss Collins was a minister’s daughter that falls in love with a young man in her town … but, the marriage fails and he remarries. Lucretia never recovers from the sadness that follows the divorce. Every night, she believes that this man she once loved sneaks into her room. Everyone in the apartment building suspects that she is insane and she has worn out her welcome. As the play begins Lucretia has called down to Mr. Abrams (Chuck Whalen) the building manager to report that she has an intruder. The porter (Timothy Hayes Lynch) and the elevator operator (Scott Graham) come up to investigate but actually it has already been arranged for a doctor to come take her away to a mental hospital. The play looks at the time leading up to her departure, her interactions with the porter, elevator operator and building manager. The doctor and his nurse arrive and the play ends with Lucretia being lead away.
Following Madonna, after an intermission, we are presented with Suddenly Last Summer oft times considered Tennessee Williams’ most autobiographical work. The play contains themes of homosexuality, dysfunctional family situations, and mental illness, all themes that are found throughout most of his work. In 1957 Williams paired Suddenly Last Summer with Something Unspoken, a shorter play Williams had written five years earlier. The combination was produced with the title Garden District, their shared New Orleans setting. Keegan Theatre chooses just to mount the one act Suddenly Last Summer instead of Garden District which ran for two hundred sixteen Off-Broadway performances.
Set in 1936 in New Orleans’ Garden District on a lush, beautiful estate, Ms. Violet Venable (Sheri Herren) seeks the facts surrounding her son Sebastian’s morbid death while on vacation abroad. Violet is intent on spinning his death and memory and has called for Sebastian’s cousin and vacation partner Catharine (Marybeth Fritzky) to be brought to her home so she can both hear the truth about Sebastian’s death and silence Catharine permanently. Catharine has been hospitalized and Violet wishes to have her transferred to a new hospital that is doing experimental lobotomies. So it is on this fine day that Catherine is brought to the estate to face the family and to have a doctor (Scott Graham) determine if she should be a patient at his mental facility.
Mounting two different Williams plays at the same time is not an easy feat to pull off but Leslie Kobylinski and Keegan are able to combine them into one fine production. The cast also does a great job. Four actors manage dual roles and all provide wonderful performances. Ms. Herren is far more effective in Madonna as she is not plausible as an older matriarch that is required for Suddenly Last Summer. Mr. Graham who was also wonderful in Beauty Queen Of Leanne this past summer by Keegan is fantastic in both of his roles (Doctor and Elevator Operator) in this production. Ms. Fritzky as Catherine shows great emotional range in a very demanding role.
The stage design for both plays is quite good. Chairs and loveseats covered in old slip covers for Portrait Of A Madonna become garden furniture in a lush Garden District veranda for Suddenly Last Summer. The sound design for Portrait Of A Madonna showed quite a bit of imagination. Period Costumes were fantastic and well done in both plays.
Keegan not only has these two plays currently mounted but also has A Streetcar Named Desire mounted at Church Street Theatre. I highly recommend seeing both productions and while I think Streetcar is the stronger of the two, Suddenly Last Summer and Portrait Of A Madonna will entertain and allow a taste of some of Tennessee Williams’ more tortured work.
Directed By Leslie A. Kobylinski, Produced by Rose M Kobylinski, Chuck Whalen – Assistant Director, Donna Reynolds – Stage Manager, Arthur Rodger – Asst Stage Manager, Grant Kevin Lane – Production Design (Set/Costumes), Franklin C. Coleman – Lighting Design, Keith Bell – Sound Design, Arthur Rodger – Hair and Make-up, Suzanne Maloney – Properties and Set Dressing, Trudi Olivetti – Dramaturgy