Culture | Players’ Theatre takes on Tennessee Williams

New production of Suddenly Last Summer takes worthwhile risks

Davyn Ryall, director of Village Scene Productions, is bringing his outstanding artistic vision of Tennesee Williams’ classic Suddenly Last Summer to McGill’s very own Players’ Theatre with a run lasting until October 4. This masterpiece delves into numerous complex topics, such as dysfunctional family romance and human mortality, with an accuracy and darkness that any Freud fan would love.

The play is centred on an inquiry into the mysterious death of Sebastian Venable and the strange claims of the institutionalized witness, Catherine Holly, which follow. Desperate to uphold her son’s reputation, Sebastian’s mother, Violet Veneble, seduces a young aspiring brain surgeon, Dr. Cukrowicz, with the money required for his experimental surgeries if he promises to “cut that hideous story out of her head.”

While Williams’s charged poetic language is brilliant in itself, it is the acting that makes this play worth seeing. Kristina Sandev steals the show with her performance as Catherine Holly. Through her manic tone and sporadic mannerisms, Sandev gives her character a perfect mix of both vulnerability and madness. Her compelling performance provides the audience with an opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not she is truly insane. Doreen Fagnam is equally impressive with her vindictive performance as Violet Venable. With her slow saunter across the stage and mesmerizing delivery of the eccentric “Tennessee” monologues, Fagnam provides us with a character that we are immediately hesitant to trust.

The rest of the actors put in convincing performances that should not go unmentioned. Dawn Ford and Adrien Desbien-Ben, acting as Catherine’s greedy mother and brother, add some much-needed humour to the menacing storyline. Alex Gordrich, playing Dr. Cukrowicz, does an excellent job as a man torn between his ambition and his virtue. Through Gordrich’s gentle tone and visible desperation, Cukrowicz becomes the one character that the audience most relates to.

The play’s actors cannot fully express, on their own, the excess of emotion and eccentricity found in the narrative. Additional atmosphere is provided by the daring set design of the garden, the site of all the play’s action. Plants literally come to life through the use of real-life actors who stay on stage throughout the entire production. Dressed head-to-toe as exotic plants, they dance suavely across the back of the stage, adding a unique dimension to the stylistic elements of this play.

Although this choice risked distracting the audience, these actors succeeded in blending into the background to the extent that the audience could almost forget their presence. The show’s stars had an impressive ability to grab the audience’s attention, making it seem as if they were the only ones on stage. They made it clear that they were worth focusing on.

In Ryall’s Suddenly Last Summer, nothing is what it seems to be. Every scene keeps you guessing and grimacing. It is only in the final scene that the truth becomes apparent, and the prior sequences reveal themselves as nothing but an intricate web of lies.

*Suddenly Last Summer runs through October 4 at Players’ Theatre (3480 McTavish, 3rd Floor). Visit ssmu.mcgill.ca/players for more information. *


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