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By Tennessee Williams

The Classics Theatre Project

Director- Emily Scott Banks
Producer/Artistic director- Joey Folsom
Associate Producer - Sasha Maya Ada
Stage Manager/Production Designer- Natalie McBride
Assistant Stage Manager- Hailey Green

Gretchen- Alma Winemiller
Evan Michael Woods- John Buchanon, Jr.
Stan Graner- Rev. Winemiller
Mary-Margaret Pyeatt - Mr. Winemiller
Van Quattro- Dr. Buchanan
Rachel Reininger- Nellie/Rosemary
Chad Cline- Roger
Leslie Patrick- Mrs. Bassett
Dean Wray- Vernon/Archie
Hannah Martinez- Rosa Gonzales
Jackie Kemp- Papa Gonzales

Reviewed Performance: 6/1/2019

Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

An artistic circle was completed at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park when The Classics Theatre Project opened their production of SUMMER AND SMOKE by Tennessee Williams. The play had its first performances there seventy-one years ago before moving on to open on Broadway in October 1948. Williams is one of three American playwrights considered to be this country’s foremost theatrical writers, the other two being Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. However, SUMMER AND SMOKE is not considered representative of his best work. That designation is almost always given to either (or both) THE GLASS MENAGERIE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. But I never pass on an opportunity to see any of Williams’ plays and even performed in this one years ago as a college student at the University of Texas. No one writes as he does, a style that is described as lyrical but with a touch of Southern Gothic which embraces beauty, but simultaneously points out the flaw which mars it. Laura in GLASS MENAGERIE is physically and emotionally flawed while in this play we are exposed to the emotional and spiritual flaws within Alma, John Buchanan, Alma’s mother and father and even Old Dr. Buchanan who can’t rein in his wild son. It is the destiny of the characters that their flaw dooms them to what Williams saw as despicable: people controlled and pushed away from their true natures by the whims and norms of “civility.”

The lyrical quality of SUMMER AND SMOKE drifts upon us like smoke. Metaphors abound. The angel in the park, Moon Lake Casino (mentioned in every one of Williams’ plays”, the fireworks, the puzzle that Mrs. Winemiller is pushed to put together, the anatomy chart all have prominence in the underlying stories. This is a story of juxtaposition. The tiny flame within Alma that eventually bursts into admitted desire for Dr. John Buchanan plays in tangent to his reversal from the wild, sexually driven man to become his father after the father’s unfortunate death. There is always that gap of misunderstanding between them and it can never close. Once begun, Alma’s unraveling barrels through Act 1. She begins as the traditional daughter of a minister, sweet, cute flirtatious but teetering on the edge of becoming an old maid. and saddled with the management of both her father and her demented mother. This production is presented in present day. As TCTP states on their Facebook page, the company attempts to make these classics more relevant and entertaining to modern audiences. They found humor in lines and delivery which gave everything a different “twist”.

Gretchen Hahn as Alma Winemiller brought youth and fun to the role. She is obviously a quite talented young actress and her timing in her giddy, flirtatious moments with the young doctor, John Buchanan, are priceless! Her face is very expressive, and she had the audience rolling with laughter on several occasions. But her good humor could turn on a dime to meanness when the burden of her demented mother was thrust on her. I want to say here that there were several outstanding performances. One of my favorites was Van Quattro as the old Dr. Buchanan. Immediately in his first scene with Alma, you saw the old Southern doctor. His delivery was slow and careful and with just a slight hint of a Southern drawl. Quattro’s timing was brilliant, and it was easy to forget he wasn’t really loveable Dr. Buchanan. Later he pierced us with his recognition of his son’s profligacy but also of his love preventing from enacting the tough stance he knew he should follow through on.

Evan Michael Woods as the young Dr. Buchanan, was very believable in that role. He exuded both sexuality and genuine concern with Alma but he, too, could turn off the charm when he didn't get what he wanted. Minor characters portrayed by Chad Cline, Dean Ray and Jackie Kemp fit well within the scope of the production, although missing were those Southern dialects. Hannah Martinez as Rosa, the embodiment of sexual desire that smolders and then ignites within us as humans was appropriately sexy and enticing. Her father owns the Moon Lake Casino. She is beautiful and sexy and can make the most of that.

Leslie Patrick, I believe pulled off the character of the busybody, Mrs. Bassett, easily. And the audience loved her! She was another laugh getter. And Rachel Reininger as Nellie, Alma's music student is another! Two last actors I have not meant to overlook. Stan Graner as Rev. Winemiller was so on target as the minister father of Alma. He seemed harried and tired and overwhelmed, but I would like to have seen more resistance from him to her association with John. On the other hand, Mary-Margaret Pyeatt as Mrs. Winemiller was just choice! The character is the truth-teller in the play. She sees all and puts together all, just as she puts together her puzzle pieces. You begin to wonder after a bit, just as in THE CURIOUS SAVAGE, exactly who is crazy here? Ms. Pyeatt got it!

The Classics Theatre Project
2120 N Haskell Ave #8
Dallas, TX 75204
Plays through June 22, 2019 at The Margo Jones Theatre at the Magnolia Lounge
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.--$10.00/$25.00