Little Theatre to present one-act Tennessee Williams play

Greenwood Little Theatre will end its 2016-17 season with a one-act show written by renowned playwright and Mississippi native Tennessee Williams.

Eddie Amelung, co-director of “Suddenly, Last Summer,” said he has wanted to bring this play to the Little Theatre for a while.

Director, Eddie Amelung

Director, Eddie Amelung

“I’d seen it in Memphis on stage, and I’d seen the movie before, and I really liked it and wanted do it here someday,” he said.

Amelung is being assisted by co-director Will Perkins, who is also in charge of the set design. The play will debut on Thursday and run through Sunday with a matinee performance.

A “garden party” will be held in the lobby of the theater at the beginning of each showing and will feature hors d’oeuvres, wine and soft drinks. The party is expected to last about 30 minutes, and the performance will immediately follow.

Several of Williams’ plays have been performed at Greenwood Little Theatre including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Glass Menagerie,” which was directed by Amelung in 2001.

“That’s my favorite Tennessee Williams play,” he said.

This is the first time for “Suddenly, Last Summer” to be performed on the Greenwood Little Theatre stage.

Williams once said he thought “Suddenly, Last Summer” was “perhaps the most poetic” play he had written. Harold Bloom, a literary critic and Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, ranks it among the best examples of the playwright’s lyricism.

Amelung said that is what he likes most about the play.

“It is just written so beautifully, and that was one of the things that drew me to it,” he said. “It’s very lyric, very descriptive and it’s almost poetic at times. I like Tennessee Williams anyway, and I like the way he writes, but I especially like the way he wrote this.”

Amelung said that although the plot may be strange to some who are not familiar with Williams’ work, all literature fans will appreciate the writing.

“It is very wordy, not a lot of action, but it’s beautiful words,” he said.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” opened off Broadway in 1958 as part of a double bill with another of Williams’ one-acts, “Something Unspoken.” Both plays are set in the Garden District of New Orleans, and the presentation of the two plays was given the title “Garden District.” “Suddenly, Last Summer” is now more often performed alone.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” centers around two women — Violet Venable, a ruthless matriarch of a prominent New Orleans family, and her niece, Catharine Holly — who share startlingly different accounts of the life and death of a man who was an important part of their lives. He was killed last summer in Spain under mysterious circumstances.

His cousin, Catherine, is the sole witness to his shocking death and is desperate to tell the truth about what happened. His mother, Violet, will stop at nothing to protect his reputation.

Dr. Cukrowicz, a neurosurgeon, finds his way into the middle of the plot.

“It’s a very interesting little story,” said Amelung. “There are a lot of layers to it and a very good many layers to these characters.”

The drama, sharing many characteristics of Southern gothic literature, is rich in symbolism.

“There are stories that are told in the beginning that directly relate to the story that Catherine is going to tell at the end,” said Amelung.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” depicts how society, greedy relatives and mental health professionals of the 1930s treat a traumatized young woman.

The main characters are Mrs. Venable, played by Cheryl Weiss; Dr. Cukrowicz, played by Bobby VanDevender; and Catharine Holly, played by Alicia Dallas.

“The three of them have the most lines, but they also have the most depth to their characters,” said Amelung. “It’s very interesting to watch this unfold, and the ones that I have playing those three roles are just spectacular in them.”

In 1959, a film adaptation of “Suddenly, Last Summer” was made. It starred Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift and was a hit at the box office.

The film received several award nominations, and Taylor, who played Catherine, won a Golden Globe Award for best actress in a motion picture drama and the Laurel Award for top female dramatic performance.

Amelung said “Suddenly, Last Summer” pushes the abilities of actors and directors.

“We like to do shows out here that kind of push our abilities, and this is not an easy show to do,” he said. “This is a show that as an actor and as a director you really want to do.”

This is Amelung’s 10th Greenwood Little Theatre show to direct, and he said the experience has been a lot of fun.

“I’m glad we finally did it,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do this show for years now.”

Throughout the Greenwood Little Theatre’s presentation, the show will also feature sound effects. There will be cigarette smoking on stage, but the smoke is fake.

Because this is a one-act play, there will not be an intermission. The play will last about an hour and 20 minutes.

“Suddenly, Last Summer” deals with adult subject matter, and parental guidance is suggested.

The show is free for current Greenwood Little Theatre members. Tickets for non-members cost $10 for students (age 21 and younger) and $15 for adults. Visit greenwoodlittletheatre.com or call or text (662) 947-1075 to reserve seats.

Alicia Dallas