Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams plays at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre February 24 through April 21, 2012
A note from Summer and Smoke Director Lionel Walsh:
In Summer and Smoke, Tennessee Williams follows his familiar themes of the confrontation of the dreamer and the realist, most often represented in the sexual struggle between his delicate female characters and the stronger male ones. As the cast, design team and I delved into the world of the play, we discovered many parallels with Williams’ other works. Perhaps the most resounding are the sentiments of Williams’ most famous heroine, Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire) who said, “I don’t want realism. I want magic.” One may see this as the central issue for our heroine, Miss Alma, whose name is Spanish for “soul”. Although she is attracted to John’s physical beauty and loves him deeply, she wants desperately to “reach up for something unattainable” like the Gothic Cathedrals she so admires. For his part, John is able to deal only with the reality of the human body as illustrated on the Chart of Anatomy (the original title of the play) that hangs in his office.
William’s style is poetic and colourful, lifting him just slightly beyond the realism of his contemporaries, such as William Inge and Arthur Miller. This gives licence to the use of memory, symbol, lyrical language and characters that represent archetypes rather than everyday people. The journey in Summer and Smoke is a beautiful one, filled with hope, loss and irony. It is these qualities that make this play timeless and relevant today just as it was when it was first produced in 1948 (revised by Williams as Eccentricities of a Nightingale in 1964).
I remember being fascinated by Williams when I was introduced to his works in Grade 11 at Monarch Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto in the early 1970s. His eccentric characters were infinitely quotable, his poetic language akin the lyrical expressions heard in my parents’ native Newfoundland and the stories at once tragic and uplifting. It was not until 1989, however, when I went to graduate school in Richmond, Virginia that I felt I understood the oppression of the propriety, symbolised by the heat and overgrown vegetation, which his characters endured. After all, I grew up in the cold Canadian north: “a bracing climate” as Miss Alma says in the play, although not in reference to Canada specifically. But it seemed to me that as I walked to school in late August 1989 closeness of the heat and the bushes and tress that forced me to duck down as I walked along the sidewalk I experienced the suffocation and claustrophobia that is characteristic in many of Williams’ plays. And that, along with an increasing appreciation for the South, ignited my desire to explore his work as a director.
Our production uses a version of the script that eliminates the original first scene that shows Alma and Johnny as children, when she made him read the name of the angel (Eternity) with his fingertips, because it was too faded to be read visually. Williams incorporated essential information from this scene into later scenes in the play. The scene was cut due to the difficulty in casting children in professional productions and to shorten the length of the play.
These pictures were taken Monday night during a technical rehearsal on the set with show condition lights, sound, props and costume in place. The design team, cast and Prof. Walsh will continue to fine tune the play until opening on Friday night. We hope to see you there!
Photo credits: Alex Goodman, Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance