In Tennessee Williams' plays, the women of note totter between madness and anger, walking time bombs of frustration and bitterness who maintain proper diction in lilting southern accents -- as though that were the last vestige of their sanity.
"Summer and Smoke," now at Source Theatre's Warehouse Rep through Sept. 18, is part of this genre -- with some wonderfully amusing moments here and there.
Source's cast does a fine, energetic job. Andrea Hatfield plays the heroine of note -- Alma Winemiller, the minister's dutiful daughter, beautiful but unmarried, running her father's rectory and assuming the endless chores that a minister's wife would take on. But in this case, the minister's wife had a nervous breakdown years ago and is now a complete daff. Helen Oney plays this role with delightful craziness and mischief in her eyes.
In this little town of Glorious Hill, Miss. -- a misnomer if poor Alma's life is any indication -- in 1916, Alma Winemiller is both the responsible, pleasant daughter and the woman robbed of her youth, as she laments in one scene with her mother. Neurotic, teased by her peers, lonely for male companionship and with a fac,ade of distance belying an honest warmth, the role is a wonderful one for an actress -- "the best female portrait I have drawn in a play," Williams himself has said -- and Hatfield captures many of Alma's fears and frustrations.
What her portrayal lacks is a biting anger. Also, her accent becomes wearing at times, although I suppose that's the voice Williams intended for the character. She is at her best in one-on-one scenes with the young Dr. John Buchanan, a man for whom the word "rake" could have been invented and the man Alma loves. He is played by Christopher Hurt, who has the right look for the role of someone whose endorsements of (and eager search for) physical passion simply mask his own emotional coldness, but Hurt can't muster a convincing range of emotions. He does have a strong, lusty voice that's appealing.
It's an engaging production of a play that presents intriguing thoughts on relationships. You leave thinking how nice it is that women don't have to grow up that way anymore.