“Suddenly Last Summer” in Chelsea

Suddenly Last Summer
Hepburn, Clift and Taylor in the 1959 film version of Suddenly Last Summer.
Suddenly Last Summer
Taylor in the 1959 film.

Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift starred in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. I love that film, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, but I’d never seen the play live until I happened upon a production now in Chelsea. It’s an emotionally satisfying hour and a half, worth making an effort to see. I   recommend touring the galleries, getting a bite to eat, then walking to the Hudson Guild Theatre at 441 W. 26th St. between 9th and 10th Aves. where tickets are $18 each.

The 1958 play – written more than a decade after The Glass Menagerie and A Street Car Named Desire, and a few years after Cat on Hot Tin Roof — deals with many of the same themes as those classics. Psychology, greed, family intrigue and sexuality play leading roles. Williams (1914-83) called it a “moral fable,” an allegory “about how people devour each other,” and indeed, each character uses the others to one purpose or other.

Set in the Garden District of New Orleans, the hothouse drama centers on the death of Sebastian the previous summer while vacationing at the beach in impoverished Cabeza de Lobo. His widowed mother Violet blames the death on his cousin Catharine, an attractive girl he brought along to attract the boys on whom he preyed sexually.

Suddenly Last Summer
Hepburn, Clift and Taylor in the 1959 film version of Suddenly Last Summer.

Catharine reveals Sebastian’s lurid death at the hands of his lovers, but Violet rejects the agonizing account as delusional and seeks to have the girl lobotomized to silence her. (Williams’ sister Rose was institutionalized and given a lobotomy.)

The White Horse Theater Co. production, directed by Cyndy A. Marion, comes to life through the performances of Lacy J. Dunn as a suitably luscious and shell-shocked Catharine Holly, Elizabeth Bove as the domineering battle-axe Violet Venable, and Lue´ McWilliams as Catharine’s anxious mother, who with her brother George (Haas Regen) urges the girl to lie about what happened to appease Violet who might block the money Sebastian left them in his will. The psychiatrist, Dr. Cukrowicz, is rather blandly played by Douglas Taurel, which focuses attention on the emotional dynamics of the family, which is rightly the main event.

The 1959 movie set a high bar, and so does this modest off-Broadway production. Plan to see it before it closes on Oct. 2. For tickets visit http://www.whitehorsetheater.com/ or call 212.868.4444.

Jason Edward Kaufman

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Jason Edward Kaufman is an art historian and critic with expertise in museums and the international art world.

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