School of MT&D revives Williams's 'Summer'

By Laura Kaye, For the Daily
Published October 2, 2011

Don't expect to sit back and relax during the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s production of Tennessee Williams’s “Suddenly Last Summer.” Instead, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a rocky ride through the telling of a story that involves a dramatic relationship between a mother, her dead son and his cousin. Williams’s play explores the tangled emotions of grief, desire and madness. Like a car accident people can’t look away from, audiences are drawn to the depth of emotion, life-altering events and brutal violent attitudes that only a family can elicit.

Suddenly Last Summer


Through October 16th; Thursdays at 7:30p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m, Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center
Tickets from $10


“Suddenly Last Summer” is about the strange death of a young man and the shocking after-effects surrounding his grieving mother. The play becomes a struggle between two family members that leads to a suspenseful and horrifying conclusion.

This year would have been the 100th birthday of Tennessee Williams, who died in 1983. “Suddenly Last Summer” serves as an homage to this great American playwright. Though the actors, who are all theater undergraduates, did not have rehearsals over the summer, those months gave them the opportunity to explore their characters thoroughly to provide a more realistic portrayal. Furthermore, they were able to delve into critical messages presented in the script.

School of MT&D Prof. Philip Kerr, who directs the production, explained the process from the get-go.

“It’s a three-point triangle,” Kerr said. “You have to look at what’s in the play, as well as what actor is playing the character, and then the director has to be a coordinator between these two somewhat similar points of view.”

Kerr, as the director, tries to give the actor the space to meld the character with his own personal identity. Furthermore, the actors have to take Williams’s elevated language and make it seem natural. This becomes a definite challenge, because the actors are in their early 20s, experimenting with characters who are middle-aged.

As director, Kerr’s production will focus on complex themes, including the misunderstanding of a person and his victimization by a savage society as well as the instability caused by mental illness. This production is infused with private anguish and a real dramatic fury to deal with the situation at hand.

More than anything else, the play highlights the characters’ relationships with one another and how their own individual emotions and dispositions intersect. Kerr said Williams uses his characters to showcase the valor of the human condition, and the need to plunge ahead.

The department of Theatre & Drama is bringing more attention to this production by arranging for the American playwright Christopher Durang to give an address and organizing other panels on themes and interpretations of Williams’s plays. Additionally, there will be a screening of the 1959 Hollywood version of “Suddenly, Last Summer,” which stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn.

As one of the greatest playwrights of 20th-century America, Williams created a work that will mesmerize the audience. He held nothing back in “Suddenly Last Summer,” but rather presented a heartfelt drama, revealing the intimate relations of its characters.

“I want them to be exalted by it,” Kerr said of his intentions for the audience. “I want them to feel that they witnessed a part of a piece of art that is worthy of their attention.”