Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, June 01, 1985, Page 14, Image 14

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

i i
A dream play
b y S andra de Helen
Tennessee Williams S u d d e n ly Last S u m ­
m e r is a delicate, sensitive, poetic play
whose basic theme is the cannibalization of
artists by society (in this case literally). If you
saw the movie, with Katherine Hepburn,
Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, you
saw a grossly sensationalist version of an
already sensational topic. You won’t see that
in the Portland Civic Theatre production as
directed by Gary O ’Brien. What you will see is
an eighty minute dream, full of Williams’ ver­
bal arias, with the underlying theme rising
and falling until the final climactic moment of
This is as it should be, for the story of
S u d d e n ly Last S um m er is one in which
truth is the issue.
Violet Venable (Margaretta Ramsey) is the
rich, powerful, gracious mother of Sebastian,
whose presence was her primary reason for
living and whose absence has aged and dis­
abled her more than her own slight stroke.
She tells the story of Sebastian's aesthetic/
poetic life (‘‘his work was his life and his life
was his work”) to Dr. Sugar (Don Alder) for
the express purpose of stopping her niece,
Catherine Holly (Cassandra Penner), from
“babbling” the bizarre story of his death.
Dr. Sugar works at the State Mental Hospi­
tal performing frontal lobotomies. He seeks
funding and patients. Mrs. Venable will supply
him with both, providing he will lobotomize
Catherine and that the lobotomy will shut
Catherine’s mouth.
The story Violet Venable wants so des­
perately to eradicate from Catherine's mind
and lips began when Sebastian chose
Catherine as his last summer companion in­
stead of his mother. Each year Sebastian
would produce one poem — one poem en­
titled “Sum m er of (and whatever the year
was).” Each year Sebastian and his mother
would travel wherever he wished to go and at
the end of the trip the poem would be pro­
duced. And each summer Mrs. Venable,
knowingly or not, acted as procuress for
Sebastian, by attracting all the young, good-
looking aesthetic types.
But in 1935, Violet Venable suffered a
stroke and was left “slightly disfigured," so
that Sebastian asked his cousin Catherine
along in his mother's place. He bought
Catherine clothes, he dressed her up, and he
changed his tastes to fit those Catherine was
more likely to attract At Cabeza de Lobo, he
made her wear a white swimsuit that became
transparent in the water, then dragged her
onto the beach for all to see. Soon, he was
followed everywhere by young boys, to
whom he gave money.
Each day there were more and more boys,
until Sebastian and Catherine had no privacy,
even at meals. On the day of his death,
Sebastian was popping little white pills for his
rheumatic heart He and Catherine were
dining at an outdoor cafe, but the boys were
gathered around them begging for bread.
W hen the waiters chased them away, they
quickly returned, at the last with ragged tin
cans and bits of metal, which they used as
instruments to “serenade" the cousins.
Sebastian and Catherine leave the cafe but
are chased by the boys. Sebastian takes the
wrong route, runs uphill followed by the
chanting boys and dies or is killed in the
street When Catherine finds him, she sees
K] M
' 1 1
that bits of his body have been torn away and
His death fits in nicely with Sebastian’s view
of God, whom he has "seen" in the annual
event of the hatching of baby sea turtles who
are then mutilated and devoured by carnivor­
ous birds as they desperately scrabble toward
the sea. Sebastian estimated that only
1 / 1 00th of a percent actually made it to the
But while Catherine’s story of his death fit
Sebastian’s view of God, it did not fit his
mother’s view of what was right and decent in
life, much less what was possible to have
happened to her son. So, she has tied up
Sebastian's will in probate (the will would
benefit Catherine, her mother and her
brother), confined Catherine to a mental
hospital, and is carefully orchestrating the
final solution through the hands of Dr. Sugar.
Director O ’Brien chose to use the unpub­
lished, alternative ending Williams wrote in
1976, which leaves Dr. Sugar a little less clear
on whether or not he wants to do the
lobotomy. (Williams’ own sister, Rose, was
lobotomized in the '30s, then institutionalized
for the rest of her life. Williams never forgave
his parents for this brutal a c t)
Margaretta Ramsey gives a powerful per­
formance, bringing to life all the subtleties of
Violet Venable: the absolute terror of facing
Sebastian’s homosexuality; the controlled
rage; the ruthless use and abuse of he*
Cassandra Penner is technically good, but
lacks the sensuality necessary to complete
the character of Catherine.
Don Alder keeps the appropriate distance
Dr. Sugar needs to uncover the truth; how­
ever, he also seems stiff and uncomfortable.
Bonnie Ross plays Catherine’s mother
well, being silly without being a caricature.
Bryan Mackey is the too boisterous George
Holly. Rachel Frey is totally believable as
Catherine’s “ keeper," Sister Felicity. Marjorie
Horen plays an understated, mousy Foxhill,
Venable’s housekeeper.
This play, written in a period when Williams
was ambivalent about his own sexuality, pre­
sents a dark vision of an oppressive society. It
behooves us to look at that picture, as though
viewing our own family album. We look at
W illiams’ pictures of a gay poet in 1935, and
we see the resemblances that exist in 1985.
We hear one tale of a gay man killed in the
street, and we know this is only one tale. But
when we recognize the similarities in today’s
society, we can also acknowledge the differ­
ences, give ourselves credit for the gains,
however few they may seem at times.
So, please see the play. And if you can, go
at the end of National Theater Week, Sunday,
June 9, at 7 p.m., for this is Actors’ Benefit
night Portland Civic Theatre, although 60
years old, hasn’t yet grown up enough to view
their plays as work — at least not p a id work
for their actors. However, proceeds from
ticket sales on June 9 will be divided among
the seven actors of this production.
S u d d e n ly Last S um m er plays Thursday-
Saturday at Portland Civic Theatre, 1530 SW
Yamhill, through June 15. Phone 226-3048.
X-wives presents
Buried Personalities
X-WIVES, a Portland-based women’s thea­
ter production company, presents B uried
Personalities: A n E vening o f Women s
Theater, Friday and Saturday nights, June 14
through June 29 at 8 p.m. at the Echo
B u rie d Personalities consists of five one-
act plays directed by Kathay Duff and starring
Sarazan Torelle James, Carol Steinel, Tillay
Christenson and Kelley Edwards.
Kathay Duff and Sarazan Torelle James
are the founders of X-WIVES. Duff started
acting during the Vietnam War doing guerilla
theater, and has most recently worked with
the Portland Women’s Theater Company di­
recting and acting for the past two years.
James starred last summer with Carol Steinel
in Harrison Pierce’s production of Dos
Lesbos, and has also worked with the Port­
land Women's Theater Co. for over two years.
Carol Steinel performed in Sumus Theater’s
production of Steambath. Kelley Edwards
acted with the Portland Women’s Theater
Company for over three years and appeared
in various productions during that time. Tillay
Christensen makes her debut with Buried
The plays include two written by Kathay
Duff, S tacy and Walt Was Wrong; one written
by Carol Steinel, 2 Smile and 2 Frown; and
Lem onade, and B eauty Standards.
S tacy stars Steinel, James and Duff and
deals with a woman’s awakening to violence
against women. Stacy premiered last
December at the Lesbian Forum.
Walt Was W rong stars James and
Edwards in an adaptaton o f S leeping Beauty
where the princess balks at destiny and she
and the Fairy, Melificent, enter into an argu­
ment about destiny.
2 S m ile a n d 2 Frow n involves Christensen
and James as a lover and an actress as seen
through the eyes of the tragedy and comedy
masks of theater which hang above the ac­
tresses bed.
Steinel and Christensen play two older wo­
men in Lem onade, sellng lemonade on a
highway during Memorial Day weekend.
While drinking their spiked profits they dis­
cuss the realities and unrealities of their lives.
Sandra DeHelen and Kate Kasten wrote
B eau ty Standards starring James and Ed­
wards as two women comparing their bodies
and demonstrating the grotesque and self-
hating body images society has taught wo­
men to internalize.
B u rie d Personalities plays six nights only.
June 14 ,15,21,22,28an d 29 at 8 p.m. at the
Echo Theater, 1515 S.E. 37th Ave. The Echo
Theater is wheelchair accessible. Tickets are
$5.00 at the door. Reservations are recom­
mended and are available by calling
Women's music
cooking this
b y S arah Koehl
W om en’s music enthusiasts are going to
have some tough decisions over the new
releases this summer.
Sue Fink’s premier album, B ig Promise,
combines innovative techno-pop and rock
music with outrageous, and often humorous,
political lyrics on everything from relation­
ships to nuclear war. Co-produced by Diane
Lindsay, B ig Prom ise is genuinely different
Sarazan Torelle James, Kelley Edwards, Carol Steinel, Tillay Christensen, and Kathay Duff in
Burled Personalities.
Ju st O ut, June. 1985