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Suddenly Last Summer

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Suddenly Last Summer, Eclipse Theatre Company, at the Chopin Theatre. Forty-one years after its premiere, Suddenly Last Summer still has the power to shock--not with its lurid depiction of sexual repression and psychological deviancy but with the parallels Tennessee Williams draws between the brutalities of so-called primitive and civilized cultures. However gruesome Sebastian Venable's death at the hands of West Indian beggars, it pales beside his doting mother's ruthless attempts to silence the only witness to this sordid incident.

Director Thomas J. Cox ignores social indictment in favor of a Grand Guignol approach, however. Karen Pratt's Norma Desmond-sized portrait of the imperious Mrs. Venable sets the tone for a production long on squirmy thrills but devoid of suspense, since it's obvious from the start that Sebastian's mother and her grotesque supporters are batty--obvious not only to us but to the physician who will decide the fate of his helpless charge, Sebastian's cousin. This one-dimensional interpretation allows Thomas Jones to do a frozen-faced turn as the skeptical Dr. Cukrowicz but reduces Janelle Snow's portrayal of the ill-used Catherine Holly to varying degrees of pathetic vulnerability.

The manifestly competent actors here struggle mightily, but all their efforts cannot redeem a disappointing conclusion to Eclipse Theatre's otherwise stellar season devoted to this American master. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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