“Suddenly Last Summer” at Westport Playhouse through September 10

By Tom Nissley

“Suddenly Last Summer” may be Tennessee Williams’ most disturbing play. It is not likely to put one to sleep, and in this absolutely beautiful production, directed by David Kennedy, it is spell-binding and carries a punch.

Sebastian Venable died suddenly last summer, while traveling in Spain with his cousin, Catharine Holly (Liv Rooth). How he died is a mystery. His mother (Annalee Jeffries), crippled by a stroke, had been his only traveling companion before Catharine, and is in denial about why her sensitive and aesthetic son chose Catharine over his adoring mother after the crippling event made her less attractive as a partner. She has already arranged to have Catharine hospitalized, and wishes to have her lobotomized, so that her version of Sebastian’s death may be quieted forever.

Dr. Cukrowicz (Lee Aaron Rosen), a famous neuro-surgeon, has been hired to perform the operation, but in his interviews with Catharine, he becomes aware that she may not be insane at all. So there is an appropriate tension set up between the wealthy matron and her less wealthy niece and the doctor. How the doctor elicits the story that has terrified Catharine is the entire plot of the play.

Annalee Jeffries is superb as Mrs. Venable, and she is the epitome of an over devoted mother, who has used Sebastian for her own solace, even as he was using her to attract young men for his pleasure. Ms. Rooth is powerful, as Catharine, resisting pressure from all sides, including her mother (Charlotte Maier) and brother (Ryan Garbayo). Mr. Rozen is admirable and sensitive as the young doctor.

Naraelle Sissions’ set design is a magnificent glass wing attached to the Venables’ house. Lighting and Costumes are great, too.

The opening nights of the play were made dark by the intrusion of Hurricane Irene. Nevertheless, some tickets remain available for this fine production through September 10. www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

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