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“Summer and Smoke” a Sultry Consideration of Tortured Southern Souls

Virginia Rep’s current production of Tennessee Williams’ play Summer and Smoke opens by paying tribute to the founders of Barksdale Theatre who invested every penny they had to start a professional theater organization. Their first venture? A private reading of Summer and Smoke.

Carolyn Demanelis, Alexander Sapp, and Dana Colagiovanni. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Carolyn Demanelis, Alexander Sapp, and Dana Colagiovanni. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

This sultry production is set in the steamy Southern Delta, where life can be as oppressive as the heat. The story focuses on Alma, a prudish preacher’s daughter who is riddled with anxiety, and Dr. John Buchanan Jr., a young, promiscuous doctor who buries his pain in bottles of alcohol. The two meet when they are young, and it’s obvious they had feelings for each other even then.

When they meet again years later, the sexual tension between the two is more than Alma can handle. Uncomfortable with anything related to unbridled passion, she fends off all of Dr. John’s advances. At the same time, she is also dealing with a domineering father who wants to keep his daughter under his control, and a mother who has reverted to a childlike state after a breakdown.

Unfortunately, it takes a tragic event to change Alma’s mindset, but it may be too late for the romance she envisioned.

Cast of Summer and Smoke, directed by Bruce Miller. Photo by Aaron Sutten.
Cast of Summer and Smoke, directed by Bruce Miller. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Directed with great care, Bruce Miller gives his actors freedom to delve into their emotions and bring that passion to the stage. Most of the cast plays multiple roles in this production and does so with ease.

The chemistry between Carolyn Demanelis, who plays Alma, and Alexander Sapp, who takes on the role of Dr. John, heats up the stage. Their strong portrayals are mesmerizing. Sapp is especially effective in conveying Dr. John’s inability to break away from his excessive and additive lifestyle.

Rich Mason’s hauntingly beautiful set design gives the show a sweltering, seductive air that captures the essence of the Delta. Sue Griffin’s costumes reflect the era as well as the play’s southern roots.

Summer and Smoke definitely entertains. Best suited for a date night or for children over age twelve. Summer and Smoke runs through May 15 at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. Click here for tickets and showtimes.

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