Feb. 13, 2013 - Issue #904: The Sugar Trade
Summer and Smoke
Life can be a mysteriously complicated thing. Emotions are turbulent, love is all-encompassing—albeit painful at times—and in the midst of it all is an internal struggle to embrace the person inside, our doppelgänger.
Set against the backdrop of Glorious Hill, Mississippi in 1916, Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke introduces us to Alma Winemiller (Erika Conway), the town reverend's unmarried daughter and epitome of a Southern belle. Amidst her sheltered and structured life, she has fallen in love with her childhood friend, the rebellious and charismatic Dr John Buchanan Jr (Justin Deveau).
Underneath Winemiller's impenetrable exterior is a soul wanting to love and be loved, and a romance nearly blossoms between the mismatched pair, but shifts in personality, timing and life events upset the delicate balance.
Neither character is truly comfortable in their own skin, adopting the personas they believe they should project to the world, rather than facing the ones within. Neither is truly happy. Each person has so much to give the other, and it's difficult to watch as they fail to realize it themselves. Although, it's always easier from the outside looking in.
The story is a slow burn at times, but the conclusion seems to come all too soon, leaving one to ponder the outcome that has played out onstage. Despite being set in 1916, the theme is not outdated. The time period, depicted through a meticulously decorated set and simplistic, period-specific costuming, comes second to the still relevant subject matter of relationships and finding happiness. Subconsciously, the themes may cause an inward look amongst its audience members, allowing them to question if they, too, are hiding a side of themselves from those around them, ignoring their own desires and selling themselves short of the true happiness that may be within reach.
Deveau and Conway have no easy task ahead of them, as Summer and Smoke is a demanding story arc, with intense scenes of dialogue and a never-ending emotional tug-of-war. The pair's chemistry radiates onstage, their highs and lows engrossing to witness. They tackle the story's difficult scenes with panache and an unflinching honesty. Conway is particularly strong as Winemiller, fully embodying her nuances, right down to an unwavering Southern accent and the character's numerous nervous tendencies.
Opposite her is Deveau as the formidable, suave doctor, whom he embodies with a sense of ease—Buchanan's teasing and frank statements delivered with natural flair. Each character's bold personalities could have easily fallen into the line of caricature, but each actor, under the watchful eye of director Mary-Ellen Perley, unfolds the layers of their respective characters to bring out every emotion and every fault, regardless of what that may be.
Until Sat, Feb 16 (8 pm)
Directed by Mary-Ellen Perley
Walterdale Playhouse, $12 – $18
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