Friday, 21 November 2008

Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke"

Two years ago I saw a magnificent stage production of “Summer and Smoke” with Rosamund Pike that closed too early (after just six weeks, ten weeks earlier) and yesterday I went to see the film at the BFI Southbank, with Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey. Like the play, the film broke my heart in many little pieces, but the stage version was so much better. Rosamund Pike is as good actress as Geraldine Page ever was (and she was truly genial in Sweet Bird of Youth), but the fact she is younger and prettier helped to create a sense of pointlessness of the character which in my view is essential – Page created part on stage ten years before the film, by which time she was approaching 40. Also Geraldine Page did something weird and affected with her face while she spoke, which irritated me slightly and didn't have the naturalness and grace of Rosamund Pike. However, I have to admit that I am comparing two different mediums and Geraldine Page might have surprised me in the stage production.

The story is deceptively simple, because its life comes from its characters. In 1912, in New Orleans (I think), Alma Winemiller is in love with her next door neighbour, who has recently return home a doctor and with a lust for life that no one seems to fulfil (and yes, he does sleep around). Alma on the other hand, is much more, in Hitchcock’s words, a “snow covered volcano” and a minister’s daughter – and a confrontation/seduction game starts between the two, where each tries to persuade the other to come to their way of thinking, and this is Tennessee Williams, there aren’t really any winners, just different types of losers.

Of all Tennessee Williams' plays and stories that I have read or seen as either a film or a play, this is by far my favourite. Maybe it helped that I hadn’t any contact with it prior to watching the stage version. And on stage, the only one who came near was "The Glass Menagerie" with Jessica Lange and Ed Stoppard, mostly because of the very good casting. I am truly sorry Rosamund Pike’s performance won’t be available except for those who saw her in those six weeks. It was one of my best nights out at the theatre.

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