Suddenly, Last Summer
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Suddenly, Last Summer is a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. It opened off Broadway on January 7, 1958, as part of a double bill with another of Williams' one-acts, Something Unspoken (written in 1958). The presentation of the two plays was given the overall title Garden District, but Suddenly, Last Summer is now more often performed alone. The play, basically consisting of two long monologues, is considered one of Williams' starkest and most poetic works.
Catharine Holly, a poor relation of a prominent New Orleans family, seems to be insane after her cousin Sebastian dies under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Europe. Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, trying to cloud the truth about her son's homosexuality and death, threatens to lobotomize Catharine for her incoherent utterances relating to Sebastian's demise. Under the influence of a truth serum, Catharine tells the gruesome story of Sebastian's death by cannibalism at the hands of locals whose sexual favors he sought, using Catharine as a device to attract the young men (as he had earlier used his mother).
As with many Tennessee Williams plays, the play incorporates elements from the playwright's own life, along with elements from the life of his idol, poet Hart Crane. Williams' sister Rose was compelled to undergo a lobotomy at the instigation of their domineering mother. Williams had begun psychoanalysis shortly before writing the play. The language of the play contains many images and symbols of predation.
Sebastian's dismemberment and consumption by the objects of his sexual desire recalls the myth of Dionysus, in which a sacrificial animal is torn apart and eaten raw, as in Euripides' play The Bacchae (405 BCE).
Adaptations and productions
1958 Original production
The original production of the play was performed off Broadway in 1958, staged by the York Playhouse with lighting design by Lee Watson. Anne Meacham won an Obie Award for her performance as Catharine. The production also featured Hortense Alden and Alan Mixon.
The film version was released by Columbia Pictures, in 1959, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift; it was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a screenplay by Gore Vidal and Williams. The movie differed greatly from the stage version, adding many scenes, characters, and subplots. The Hollywood Production Code forced the filmmakers to cut out the explicit references to homosexuality.
The movie received three Academy Awards nominations: Hepburn and Taylor were both nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and it was also up for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.
1993 BBC TV play
The play was adapted for BBC television in 1993 under the direction of Royal National Theatre head Richard Eyre, and stars Maggie Smith, Rob Lowe, Richard E. Grant, and Natasha Richardson. It aired in America on PBS as an episode of Great Performances. Smith was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. According to Lowe, his personal driver during the production of the telefilm was also the personal driver for Montgomery Clift on the 1959 film.
1995 Broadway debut
The play made its Broadway debut in 1995. It was performed together with Something Unspoken, the other one-act play that it originally appeared with under the title Garden District. It was presented by the Circle in the Square Theatre. The cast included Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Venable and Jordan Baker as Catharine.
Michael Grandage directed a 2004 stage production at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, featuring Diana Rigg as Mrs Venable and Victoria Hamilton as Catharine. The production toured nationally before transferring to the Albery Theatre, London. The production received enthusiastic reviews, and Hamilton won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance.
2015 Sydney Theatre Company
The play was part of the 2015 season at the Sydney Theatre Company. Director Kip Williams blended live camera work with traditional stage craft in a production starring Robyn Nevin as Mrs Venable. The production received three nominations at 2015 Helpmann Awards, with Nevin nominated for Best Actress, the production nominated for Best Play, and Williams winning for Best Director.
- Class Menagerie
- "Suddenly Last Summer with Victoria Hamilton and Diana Rigg at Albery 2004". LondonTheatre.co.uk. 2004-05-14. Retrieved 2011-06-21.
- "STC Magazine: Video - Director Kip Williams". Sydney Theatre Company. 10 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Garden District at the Internet Broadway Database
- Suddenly, Last Summer (1959 film) at the Internet Movie Database
- Suddenly, Last Summer (1993 TV movie) at the Internet Movie Database