What if a twenty-something, small town Mick Jagger had been trained as a monk but rebelled with every fiber of his being? And he grew up next door to a preacher’s daughter, a Janis Joplin shadow, burying her sensual self deep beneath repressive convention, determined to reform this Mick with Bodhisattva-like morality? A ferocious clash of divine opposites plays out at human scale. TCTP director Emily Scott Banks cast the smoldering, ominously sensual Evan Michael Woods as dissolute young Dr. John Buchanan and TCTP company member Gretchen Hahn as the fragile but determined Alma, whose name translates as “soul” in Spanish. Both well-cast actors bring clearly defined, firmly balanced physicality and conviction to their portrayals that will surely continue to grow as they play to more audiences (seen for review at first preview). I’d like to see Woods revel in John’s self-destructive vulgarity with a bit more of a careless, lascivious Jagger edge, so palpable under the surface and looming in his eyes. Hahn’s Alma is so tightly bound up in her repressive conventional morality it hurts to watch her traverse the arc of convulsive rationalization driving her totally bonkers with desire. It would be a rush of relief to watch her virtual chastity belt drop off in the final scene with John, even though it doesn’t lead them to a predictably comfy resolve. Life doesn’t always grant easy answers. As these leads carry the arc of this show, I sensed they were clearly headed in the direction playwright Williams had in mind. His secondary characters create the context and texture of the play, superbly played. Stan Graner and Mary-Margaret Pyeatt inhabit Alma’s conventional parents as if they have weathered and accepted a disappointing marriage for a long time. Van Quattro as John’s father, the humanitarian Dr. Buchanan, reveals an understandable frustration with his wayward son’s provocative actions and functions as the play’s true moral center. The play spins and spins awry then seems to catch its breath when Quattro’s Dr. Buchanan appears. Rachel Reinnenger’s pushy Nellie adds a comic element to balance the play’s overall tragic mood and earthy contrast to Alma’s pretensions to sainthood.
Set design by Nat McBride, strategically structured in–the-round, helps avoid any labored scene changes and keeps the action dynamic, in suit with Emily Scott Banks’ bold direction. I don’t feel the play needed to move to a modern setting with contemporary costumes, but that may be a function of company budget as much as aesthetic. It jarred me occasionally but didn’t prevent appreciation of the accomplishment of this sensitive, vivid staging. Dallas gets a unique treat with this professional, truthful production of Summer and Smoke, running through June 22 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park. Thanks to TCTP for presenting worthy stage works of classic dimension for Dallas audiences’ pleasure. http://www.theclassictheatreproject.com
Photos by Nat McBride