Summer and Smoke | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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SUMMER AND SMOKE, Lucid Theatre Productions, at the Preston Bradley Center for the Arts. A truer title for this moving but schematic 50-year-old drama would be "Body and Soul." As in all his best works, Tennessee Williams splits himself between his thwarted lovers. His purpose: to show that passion needs more than the right affinities--perfect timing is crucial.

Glorious Hill, Mississippi, is as stifling culturally as it is climatically. Neurasthenic, self-destructive Alma is a repressed minister's daughter who denies the flesh to exalt the intellect, becoming a pretentious bluestocking. John, literally the boy next door, takes the opposite course, abandoning his duties as a doctor to become a hedonistic lush. What they cherish in each other is what they lack within--but it's not enough for love. By the bittersweet end they've switched obsessions, yet they reach the same impasse.

Kay Cosgriff's well-felt staging balances Williams's arch ridicule of the lovers' excesses with compassion for their loneliness and frustration. Valerie Fashman moves the proud, doomed Alma (a spin-off of Blanche DuBois) down her inevitable path, from the florid affectation of a would-be romantic to the tested anguish of a fallen angel. Though at times he drops the energy, Wayne Camp warmly registers John's volatile mix of sensuality and self-pity. The other characters, with their Mississippi mediocrity, exist to set off the lovers. Carolyn Bowyer is aptly irritating as Alma's impish deranged mother, and Karen Weinberg suitably stupid as Alma's successful rival.

--Lawrence Bommer

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