Suddenly Last Summer by Tennessee Williams. Papermoon, directed by Geoffrey Borny, at ANU Arts CentreDecember 1 – 10, 2005.
Tennessee Williams knew personally the fear, perhaps our worst fear, of losing your mind - of not knowing what is real and what is not. In 1943 his parents authorised a prefrontal lobotomy on his older sister Rose. In Suddenly Last Summer (1958), Catharine Holly (Lainie Hart) is threatened with this very treatment because, Mrs Venable (Naone Carrel) says, she "babbles". Like Rose had, maybe.
Dr Cukrowicz (Alex Sangston), though compromised by needing funding for his research work from Mrs Venable, finds a way to test Catharine's story in a long intense hypnosis session. If Catharine speaks the truth, denying Mrs Venable's apocryphal belief that Catharine caused the death of her son Sebastian, the doctor cannot in conscience perform a lobotomy. Dr Cukrowicz concludes that we should consider that she is speaking the truth - but how do we know?
What Williams has done is to make us experience what it is like to be unsure of the truth, as a person on the verge of insanity is. To do this he uses long monologues by Mrs Venable and Catharine which are major achievements for Carrel and Hart, and for director Borny. The play focusses on the storytelling and requires close attention to the words, the pauses, the images and the implications. This is not an easy ride, but well worth our effort. The deliberate slow pacing may be too difficult for some, but let the words and the feelings wash over you. The experience is not pleasant, but revealing, as we should expect from great works of art.
What this production does, appropriately for its university context, is to make the careful construction of the art apparent to us. The dead Sebastian's jungle garden, like Williams' dialogue, is designed in every detail to seem real, and so the set cleverly complements the structure of the play. It becomes both an intellectual and emotional quest for the nature of truth - a satisfying result.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
Return to Frank McKone'sHome Page