A-Schaef’s #CBR4 Review #02: Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams

Another Tennessee Williams play, which I actually opened immediately after putting down Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. This play is shorter and simpler, about a very moral-centered, almost uptight southern woman named Alma and a doctor with far looser morals named John. The two fall in love, but find themselves kept apart by different worldviews.

John quickly became my favourite character of the two, if only because I found him more relatable. The monologues written for him were absolutely stunning though, and I found myself tempted to skip through scenes until I found him back in the play. I resisted, but I’m still not sure it was entirely the right decision. The level of emotional maturity that Williams gave this character makes him wonderfully tragic. Tom is mature enough to understand the wrong decisions he is making, but lacks the self-control to stop making them. It gives his character several levels of emotion and longing, and always keeps him interesting.

Alma was a lost opportunity for Williams, especially considering she is the main protagonist of the play. She is introduced with an anecdote where people discuss how she is “putting on airs”, and is too affected to seem regular. Her dialogue is all very over the top, and it becomes very quickly apparent where people got these ideas about her. While I must concede that it does give her character some quirkiness, it takes away from the opportunity to have more subtle speech come out of her. She sticks out from the rest of the characters like a sore thumb, and comes out like a caricature of what could have been a great character.

All in all, Tennessee Williams did still write it, and it comes with a certain standard of quality from that alone. I found John to be my favourite character in all of the Williams I have experienced. He is not as complex or unique as Cat On A Hot Tin Roof‘s Big Daddy or Streetcar‘s Stanley Kowalski, but he is very human, and subtly tragic. This is not by any means a world-changing play, and those outside of the theatre sphere may have never heard of it, but it’s a good read with some very interesting characters and ideas.

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