A review by Erin Fair.
Ann Marie Wilding, Keri Tombazian, Markus Jorgensen, Tara Battani and Gregory James star in the Actors Co-op production of SUMMER AND SMOKE, now playing at the ACTORS CO-OP David Schall Theatre.
Photos: Lindsay Schnebly
Summer and Smoke was written in the mid-1940s, making it an ancillary of
The Glass Menagerie and
A Streetcar Named Desire, but its world feels even more confined than the Wingfields' living room or the Kowalskis' kitchen.
Summer and Smoke is set in the early 20th century in the small town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi, where Alma with a minister father and a mentally unstable mother, grows up derisive of carnal desires, giving spiritual inclinations precedence.
Fernanda Rohd and Gregory James
Alma (Tara Battani) lusts after her neighbor John Buchanan Jr. (Gregory James) the charming debauchee who makes little secret of his affairs with women from outside polite society, notably with Rosa Gonzalez (Fernanda Rohd). During one argument John forces Alma to look at an anatomy chart in his doctors office. "This upper story's the brain, which is hungry for something called truth and doesn't get much but keeps on feeling hungry, this middle's the belly which is hungry for food. This part down here is the sex, which is hungry for love because it is sometimes lonesome. I've fed all three, as much of all three as I could or as much as I wanted--You've fed none." He challenges her to find the soul among the jumble of blood and guts and she can't. By that accord he thinks he has won the argument, but by the end of the play, the tables have turned with a furious guerdon and each follows the path formerly trodden by the other.
(Right) Tara Battani and Gregory James.
Summer and Smoke could easily be categorized as "first world problems" but as a Tennessee Williams play it delves past the surface into the bottom rung of human emotion and strips it bare.
Summer and Smoke is about how uncompromising beliefs can often get in the way of love and freedom. Echoing the sentiment of his other works, the sorrow of two people identifying the missing element but failing to grasp it in time is portrayed with keen awareness.
The sturdy production is anchored by excellent performances, with standout work from Tara Battani as Alma who is a revelation. With splendid period costumes, a generously sized cast, and a very clever set, this play succeeds on every level. With a modestly sized stage the designer makes use of its three central locations with smart lighting and expert stage blocking. I recommend this play as a great study of the human experience, and it is with great care and skill that this cast and crew make it a memorable must-see.
Tara Battani and Townsend Coleman.
SUMMER AND SMOKE runs through Sunday, April 17 at the Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St. (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.
Tickets may be purchased by phone at (323) 462-8460 or visit www.ActorsCo-op.org.
Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:30pm (with Saturday Matinees scheduled for Saturday, March 12 & Saturday, April 16 at 2:30pm). There are no performances over Easter Weekend March 25-27.
Actors Co-op is located at 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA 90028, on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, one block north of Hollywood Boulevard, just off the Gower Street exit of the 101 Hollywood Freeway. Free, well-lit parking is available on Carlos Street (1/2 block east of Gower).
Gregory James and Tara Battani