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The summer of our discontent
The Collective Face explores Tennessee Williams' dark 'Suddenly Last Summer'

Sebastian Venable is dead. This much we know.

Although the events in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer take place after Sebastian’s death on a hot beach in Spain, he is very much a presence in the play.

His story is told through interpretive flashbacks by his doting mother, the eccentric New Orleans belle Violet Venable, and his pretty young cousin Catharine Holly.

And oh, they tell very, very different tales.

The Collective Face production of Suddenly Last Summer (first produced on Broadway in 1958) re–teams actresses Dandy Barrett and Maggie Lee Hart, seen together in the company’s explosive interpretation of Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in 2010.

The wealthy Mrs. Venable either doesn’t believe, or doesn’t want to hear, Catharine’s mostly–incoherent utterances. What the young girl seems to be saying is so terrible, so emotionally crippling, the old woman attempts to have Catharine lobotomized in order to keep her quiet.

“For me, as Violet Venable, the central issue is that it doesn’t matter whether or not the story the girl is telling is true,” Barrett explains. “It matters that it not be told. She is protecting her son, she is protecting most of all herself and her reputation. So the entire goal is to shut this girl up.”

Violet and her son, a poet, used to travel the world together. Says Barrett: “Everywhere they traveled, as she says in the play, ‘attention was paid to us.’ ‘We were the center of attention.’ ‘Everyone else was eclipsed.’ And that’s how she was brought up.

“Her entire life revolved around her reputation, her presentation of her one child, and their place in society both in the United States and in Europe. She speaks of renaissance princes, and staying at the Ritz in Paris, and the Ritz in Madrid, and taking a house on the Riviera for the season ... she was into that entire mindset of upper–crust society. That’s how she lived her life.”

But Sebastian pushed his mother aside and brought Catharine along on his most recent trip to the continent. He had, it is revealed, ulterior motives.

It didn’t go so well.

One of Tennessee Williams’ gifts was his ability to burrow under the skin of his characters and expose the soft, white stuff underneath. Like so many of his plays, Suddenly Last Summer is dark, gothic, poetic and, at its core, disturbing.

It’s also very, very Southern.

“Part of it is his capacity for language,” Barrett believes. “Because it’s so extraordinarily descriptive. And he also is a master an analogous writing. At the beginning of the play, Violet is telling a story, and if you’re paying attention, it’s a parallel, almost, to the story that Catharine tells. But it’s a completely different tale. It’s told about animals, birds and sea turtles, stuff like that. It’s visceral.

“And I don’t know how someone is that visceral, except that he spent so much time in and out of institutions himself. His sister was lobotomized because she was nuts. He came from a crazy, dysfunctional family. With all its Southern drama.”

Directed and designed by David I.L. Poole, the cast of Suddenly Last Summer also includes Richie Cook, Lynita Spivey, Mickey Dodge, David Bonham and Julie Kessler.

The Collective Face: Suddenly Last Summer

Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 6, 12, 14, 19 and 20; plus 3 p.m. Oct. 6 and 14 (no shows Oct. 13)

Tickets: $15 general admission, $12 seniors and students

Reservations: (912) 232–0018