My mom, my brother Howard, and I saw *Summer and Smoke* at the Classic Stage Company on 4/29. This is the play that Tennessee Williams wrote in 1948, between *The Glass Menagerie* and *A Streetcar Named Desire.* It reminded me a little of Verdi's *Luisa Miller,* which I saw at the Met a few weeks before. In both cases you see the author trying out things he'll do better in later works...
I saw the movie when I was a teenager and saw Lee Hoiby's opera version in the 90s but had never seen the play. My mom and Howard were planning a short trip to New York, on their way to a longer trip to Norway, and Howard asked if this was something they'd like. I looked it up, saw that Marin Ireland was playing the lead, and bought us tickets.
We loved it, we all loved it. It's a fascinating play, rich in symbols: the wind, the angel fountain, the anatomical diagram, even the "picture puzzle," they were all symbols of larger issues, with deep meaning. But the further we got into the play, I realized that the characters themselves are symbols. But Williams is such a genius, even though they each represent something, they're never two-dimensional. He breathed life into them, he felt compassion for them.
The play was directed by Jack Cummings III. The name rang a faint bell, and when I read his bio I saw that he directed the startling one-man production of *Strange Interlude* that I saw last fall. He's an imaginative man of the theatre, he knows how to blow the dust off these musty old classics that would seem dated or quaint in the hands of a lesser director. The set was pared down to just six chairs, and the way that he staged those chairs was absolute genius. The placement of the chairs communicated the relationships in the play, they supported the dramatic arc, they became another set of symbols. I want to see this man direct an opera!
Marin Ireland was fantastic. She first came onto my radar in Neil LaBute's *reasons to be pretty* and I was excited to see her in a big, grown-up part. She was extraordinary, she went full out with her performance, wasn't afraid to go too far, always kept the overall arc of her character in mind. This was a tour de force performance, and she's only 38 - - I hope to see many more tour de force performances from her.
Nathan Darrow was the male lead. His role wasn't as impressive as Ireland's, but maybe more tricky. He's sort of a dope, sort of a scamp, but clearly he has something that these women are drawn to. Or maybe it's just a very small town! Anyway, his character has to be an equal partner to Ireland, and he succeeded in that. And the two of them had wonderful chemistry.
My mother was especially impressed with Elena Hurst in the small role of Rosa Gonzalez. She had a powerful presence, a beautiful speaking voice, and was a lovely dancer.
The audience was enthralled by the show. It was gratifying to see this play, which isn't produced very often, being done in such a first-class production.