What: Theatre in the Pines performs Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke”
Where: Spiran Hall, 18 Broadway, Rockport
When: Friday and Saturday. May 18 and 19, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 20, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $15. Available at the Bookstore in Gloucester, or Toad Hall in Rockport, or at the door.
If Theatre in the Pines’ 25th anniversary season, which opened Thursday evening with Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke,” gets any better than this, the troupe’s loyal following is in for a treat. With a crisply played reading full of intelligence, director Nan Webber’s players attacked Williams’ Southern psychodrama about a high-strung preacher’s kid and her rakish neighbor with gusto and robust energy.
Heidi Pulkkinen shines as Alma Winemiller, whose nervous temperament almost overwhelms a native intelligence—almost. Larry Cook stars as John Buchanan Jr., the next-door doctor’s son, whose own career in medicine has been emphatically placed on the back burner while he explores his animal instincts. Both were stunningly sharp on opening night, and their chemistry—if that’s the word to describe two characters who never actually intersect, except as combatants—was impossible to miss.
The role of Alma is a true creation of genius. There’s not a stereotypical bone in her body: she’s “hysterical,” but not stupid. She’s sensitive, but not easily offended. She’s not worldly, but nothing surprises her. Pulkkinen had it all, every nuance that makes Alma’s transition in the play—as dramatic a transformation as can be imagined—entirely believable.
She was matched at every turn by Cook, who, as the handsome young doctor’s son, more interested in the late-night casino life than in small-town traffickings, could easily have been played as a drunken stay-out. But Cook transformed him into a genuine man, someone who blithely makes mistakes, but eventually rights himself and becomes a real citizen.
The two stars dominated the show, but several supporting actors made the most of their time. Alma’s crazy-like-a-fox mother (Mary Rudolph Black), the unhinged preacher’s wife who lives for laughs, cigarettes and ice cream, almost stole the show. One scene, with Alma hyperventilating in rage about something or other, and her mother responding non-stop like a sitcom laugh track, stormed through like a hurricane. Eileen Fitzgerald, as the sexy Hispanic from the wrong side of town, and Courtney Peckham, as a coming-of-age small-town girl, both sketched out their characters with distinction. Walter Peckham, Sarah Clark, Karl Pulkkinen and Martin Ray also played believably.
The sets were simple—half preacher’s parlor, half doctor’s office—and with some of the acting spilling out into the audience, “Summer and Smoke” was blocked elegantly for the cramped stage. Costumes, especially Alma’s tasteful but fetching outfits, were spot-on for a small Southern town.
“Summer and Smoke” runs through Sunday afternoon at Spiran Hall in Rockport. Don’t miss a chance to see some excellent acting bring Tennessee Williams’ spirited clash of wills to life.