By William Wolf

SUMMER AND SMOKE  Send This Review to a Friend

Although Marin Ireland gives a riveting performance as Alma Winemiller, the repressed, disappointed and conflicted unmarried woman in the Tennessee Williams play “Summer and Smoke,” the bare-bones production presented by Classic Stage Company and Transport Group is more like a dramatic reading than a full-fledged mounting.

The staging is bereft of all atmospherics under the minimalist direction by Jack Cummings III. I also have trouble with the audience set-up in this revival. Spectators are seated on three sides, and in one important and deeply emotional scene involving Alma and the tortured and elusive John Buchanan, on whom she has had a crush since childhood, Marin’s back was turned toward my seating section and I was deprived of the opportunity to see her facial expressions. As visible in other scenes, Ireland’s expressions are a most impressive aspect of her acting prowess.

Where is all this taking place? The program informs us that the location is Glorious Hill, Mississippi at the turn of the century through 1916. We have to take its word, as the action might just as well be occurring in a reading at a Manhattan rehearsal studio. Much audience imagination is required.

Fortunately, the acting does justice to Williams’s characters and plot. Phillip Clark excels as John’s disapproving doctor-father. Elena Hurst is excellent and appropriately sexy as Rosa Gonzalez, John’s girlfriend with whom he is about to run off.

T. Ryder Smith is convincingly uptight as Reverend Winemiller, Alma’s father, and Barbara Walsh impresses as her over-the-top, loopy mother.

The most famous portrayal of Alma was that of Geraldine Page in the 1952 Broadway production. Fortunately a 1961 film was made with Page in the starring role with Laurence Harvey as co-star, which gives those too young to have seen her on stage a chance to buy or rent the film and savor her acting.

Ireland certainly makes her own strong mark in the role, even in this scaled-down production. And the poetic sensibility of Tennessee Williams comes through in various patches of dialogue, especially at the end when Alma, all hope with John having collapsed, seductively attracts a traveling salesman (Ryan Spahn). At Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed May 4, 2018.


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