In March of 2020, Avant Bard Theatre had just settled in for a month’s long run of a production combining two one-act Tennessee Williams plays when the spread of COVID-19 swiftly put a halt to everything.
Fortunately, the Arlington-based theater troupe was able to give the production another go, with most of the cast and creative team reunited for this year’s reprise, which works to close out the company’s 32nd season.
Directed by the company’s founder Christopher Henley, the production gets off to a sultry mood with Williams’ lesser-known one-act Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen.
The brief drama, written in 1953, four years before Suddenly Last Summer, serves as a pleasing, if insubstantial, amuse-bouche for the Southern-fried main course of Williams’ lengthier one-act classic.
Striking an incandescent presence in both plays is Miss Kitty, who can take full command of a moment with merely a pause.
In Suddenly Last Summer, Miss Kitty is the officious assistant Miss Foxhill, part of the utterly upper-crust New Orleans household of society widow Violet Venable, embodied with venomous appeal by the wonderful Cam Magee. Portraying pithy, imposing Violet, Magee conveys a distinctively Southern flavor of demonstrative, but she isn’t pointlessly florid.
She’s matter-of-fact — about her grand life, her opinions, and her contempt for niece Catherine Holly (Sara Barker), since young Cathy won’t stop “babbling” the most horrid story about what caused the sudden death last summer of Violet’s beloved son Sebastian.
The widow Venable has summoned psychiatrist Doctor Cukrowicz (Matt Sparacino) to her manse to discuss ways of treating Cathy into silence. Megan Morgan offers a smart turn as Cathy’s mother Mrs. Holly, caught between her love for her daughter and her fealty to Violet’s dough, ultimately appearing desperate to please the more powerful Violet despite the potential cost to Cathy.
The play, of course, builds to Cathy spilling every awful detail of what happened to her same-sex-loving cousin Sebastian, and Barker molds her performance suitably to the rising crescendo of Cathy’s emotions and stunning revelations.
Hers is a florid turn, but if there’s any writer whose language can absorb such flamboyant moves, it’s Tennessee Williams.
Through June 18.
At the Gunston Arts Center, Theater Two, 2700 South Lang St., in Arlington, Va.
Tickets are $40.
Call 703-418-4804 or visit www.wscavantbard.org.