Journey lasts just shy of four hours. It starts a half-hour earlier than ordinary ACT shows (7:30 weeknights, 1:30 matinees) and the house manager only seems to allow the actors one curtain call. The production could be less cautious; it doesn't keep up the tension all evening, and it doesn't bring anything new to a play most of us have seen. But it's a respectable take, and by resting quietly on the virtues of its old monument of a script it manages some trancelike effects.
Tennessee Williams learned a lot from O'Neill, though between them you would think all women in the U.S. have trouble facing up to reality. Suddenly Last Summer is a short Williams play about a rich matron who irrationally wants the girlfriend, or consort, of her dead poet son lobotomized. (It was turned into a 1959 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.) Violet Venable lives on an expensive New Orleans estate with a flower-dripping garden planted and tended -- until last summer -- by her son Sebastian, a sensitive young homosexual who wrote exactly one poem per year. When the play opens Violet is giving a tour of the garden to Dr. Cukrowicz, who does pioneering work in lobotomies.
This is another show dealing in revelations from the past, and Violet, like Mary Tyrone, has something to hide. She tells the doctor that she and Sebastian were very close until Sebastian went to Mexico with a woman named Catharine Holly, whom she suspects of being a murderous witch. Soon thereafter, Catharine comes onstage attended by a nun -- because she's a ward of a local Catholic mental hospital -- and turns out to be the only sane character in the play. After an injection of truth serum she spills the whole story of Sebastian's death to a garden full of proper Americans, who are properly horrified.
It's a funny Gothic notion elaborated into a 90-minute one-act in Williams' flowery, audience-considerate style. The characters are wittily and carefully introduced; the story comes out in well-controlled fragments, and the cast of this production is devoted to doing it well. Anna Van der Heide does a queenly, brittle Violet, self-possessed even when she flubs a line; Colman Domingo is courtly and polite, if occasionally a little stiff, as Dr. Cukrowicz; Shannon McGrann plays Catharine with an urgency that collapses into perfect helplessness after she's injected. Since no one is a native Southerner the accents quaver in and out; but director Neal Shorstein's habit of focusing a spotlight during certain long speeches helps the actors give force to their lines. This production also has something modest about it, a simple desire to make a good script work, and it turns a smaller piece of the American canon into something elegiac and warm.
-- Michael Scott Moore
Published:In our review of A Long Day's Journey Into Night ("The American Canon," Stage, April 14), we misidentified the actor playing Edmund. His name is Jason Butler Harner. SF Weekly regrets the error.