Down in the Bayou, Violet Venable’s (Marti Gobel) genteel Victorian sensibilities cling to changing times. Her son Sebastian, the apple of her eye, her muse, her poet, anchors their impenetrable blood alliance, rooted in his artist talent and the rush of collecting graces available only to those with penchant for the niceties of high art and noble society. They together blazed an international trail through the last Gilded corners of global society, recognized nearly as wed.
Together her and her son stood in Paris, while Violet’s husband lay on his death bed. Her and Sebastian’s appetite for couture and soiree too salubrious to abandon. Violet’s husband dies, and Violet and her son live on, inner ring socialites. Their occupation of leisure takes a set back when Violet, stricken by a stroke, must rest in the confines of her home.
Sebastian carries on his tours as a renowned poet with his oft-shunned cousin Cathrine Holly (Sola Thompson) by his side. He has no ties, no wife, no children. For a man entering mid-adulthood this is an eyebrow raising characteristic even at face value, to be hidden by the company of his in-law relation. No matter the question of her suitability to navigate the world contained in his mind, she floats along as Sebastian’s buoy, by his conscious or her guile, much to the chagrin of his mother.
He and Catherine travel through the vestiges of European renaissance, in Spain something goes awry. Catherine returns and is committed to a mental hospital. Sebastian stays forever, dead under nebulous circumstances.
Violet seeks the clinical perspective of Dr. Cukrowitz (Marcus Causey) to dispel Cathrine’s account of Sebastian’s demise, on which presumably hinges a donation Violet may make to the hospital Dr. Cukrowitz has residency if he can fulfill Violet’s wrath. This tension brings Violet’s in-laws Mrs. Holly (Mara McGee) and George Holly (Derrion Brown) out of the woodwork. Catherine’s hospital attendant Sister Felicity (Raven Dockery) and Mrs. Foxhill (Freedom Gobels) helplessly stand-by in awe of the intrigue.
Suddenly Last Summer provides an obscure example of Tennessee Williams’ brilliance as a playwright, often overshadowed by legendary works Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Street Car Called Desire. With co-founder Dennis F. Johnson in the directors seat, Uprooted Theatre venerably stages Suddenly Last Summer as the company’s benediction to a ambitious five year run to lift up African-American theatre for all eyes to see. It’s a verbose and technically challenging play that is wonderfully executed.
Marti Gobels, Uprooted’s founder and Artistic Director, and Johnson alternatively cast William’s play with black American actors, transposing them with William’s original perspective that embodies white American characters. In contrast to color-blind and gender-blind casting, Gobels and Johnson’s artistic intent here provokes the players and the audience to experience the play in its original perspective deliberately inhabited by people of a different race, to challenge our inherent beliefs about the play’s content given our existing historical and sociological knowledge of the play’s setting.
Despite this didactic aspect of the production, the dramaturgy of this play strikes the ear and eye as at once as fascinating, convincing, and as offering full justice to one of Tennessee William’s masterworks, a provocation of the idea that actors from all walks of life can develop the chops to perform roles of depth and dramatic technicality.
Uprooted Theatre’s production of Suddenly Last Summer, has three more runs graciously hosted at Next Act Theatre in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, Saturday May 23, 2:00p matinee, 7:00p evening show and Sunday May 24, 2:00p matinee.