Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke is the perfect showcase for some of the University of Victoria’s finest actors.
Williams’ classic Summer and Smoke is set in the fictional small town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi, where carnal instincts and social propriety are at odds in Miss Alma, the daughter of a minister and an eccentric mother. She harbours a life-long infatuation with her restless and self-indulgent neighbour, John. Their bittersweet relationship – a quintessential struggle between body and spirit – circles them around a moral compass that leads to profound changes in both their lives.
“We’re in the hands of a master playwright,” director Alan Brodie says. “We know it’s well written.”
Brodie explores the American master’s play with a cast of 14 theatre students and a talented creative team: graduating student and costume designer Tim Matthews; sound designer Laura-Jane Wallace in her final spring at the department; composer and UVic’s School of Music student Michael Chambers; and stage manager Barbara Clerihue.
Dialect coach Iris MacGregor-Bannerman taught her subjects well, as the entire cast performs with convincing rural Southern accents.
Fourth year acting student Gillian McConnell easily carries a heavy load as lead character Alma Winemiller. McConnell transforms Alma gently as each scene progresses, from a sexually repressed, upright young lady to a woman, ready to throw herself into the arms of the man she desires by the penultimate act. McConnell is strong and charismatic, easily leading the cast from one dramatic moment to the next all the while drawing the audience into her frustrations and desire for a soulful connection.
Aidan Correia, in his fifth production at the Phoenix Theatre, plays the opposite side of the same coin as Alma’s object of desire, John.
Taking on the role of unruly, young doctor John, Correia is well-aware of bringing his character’s emotional desire for Alma just to the surface, letting his sensual desire take the lead as he drinks, gambles and woos the women of Glorious Hill during the long, hot summer. Correia’s talent is allowed to shine in the role in which he engages a range of deep, complex emotions.
Supporting cast includes Sophie Underwood in her Phoenix mainstage debut, who provides a less than smouldering Rosa Gonzales, but even her somewhat shy opening night performance provides stark contrast to McConnell’s repressed Alma. Lindsay Robinson, as Dr. John Buchanan Sr., has the patterns and pathos of a veteran small town doc down pat and fourth year student Nick Postle stoically portrays Rev. Winemiller. Zoe Wessler attacks the role of Alma’s quirky mother, Mrs. Winemiller, and gleefully acts as comic relief, humorously licking an ice cream cone in one scene and pitching puzzle pieces on the floor in another.
Although it’s been more than 70 years since it was written, Phoenix Theatre’s execution of Williams’ Summer and Smoke is not a piece aged by time, but is rather a timeless tale of transformation brought to the audience through impeccable performances.
Summer and Smoke is on until March 19. For more information click here.
– With Black Press files