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Summer and Smoke is a 1948 play by Tennessee Williams, originally titled Chart of Anatomy when Williams began work on it in 1945. In 1964, Williams revised the play as The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.

Synopsis

Summer and Smoke takes place in Glorious Hill, Mississippi. It centers on a high-strung, unmarried minister's daughter (Alma Winemiller) and the spiritual/sexual romance that nearly blossoms between her and the wild, undisciplined young doctor who grew up next door (Dr. John Buchanan, Jr.). Quite a point is made in the play that Alma's name is the Spanish word for soul. She, ineffably refined, identifies with the gothic cathedral, "reaching up to something beyond attainment", whereas John, doctor and sensualist, defies her with the soul-less anatomy chart for proof. (John: "You know who's crowned with most of the glory on this earth? The one who uses his senses to get all he can in the way of--satisfaction.")

By play's end, however, Alma and John have traded places philosophically. She has been transformed beyond modesty ("Forget about pride whenever it stands between you and what you must have!" she declares). She throws herself at John after all, saying, "..now I have changed my mind, or the girl who said 'no,'--she doesn't exist any more, she died last summer--suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her.". But John has changed, he's engaged to settle down with a respectable, younger girl, and, as he tries to convince Alma that what they had between them was indeed a "spiritual bond," she realizes, in any event, it is all too late. (Alma: "I came here to tell you that being a gentleman doesn't seem so important to me any more, but you're telling me I've got to remain a lady. The tables have turned with a vengeance!") In the next, final scene of the play, Alma accosts a young traveling salesman at dusk in the town park and, as the curtain falls, she follows him off to enjoy the "after-dark entertainment" at Moon Lake Casino, where she'd resisted John's attempt to seduce her just the summer before.

Stage Performances

Broadway

Summer and Smoke received its first performance at the Music Box Theatre, New York Citymarker, on 6 October, 1948 in a production staged by Margo Jones and designed by Jo Mielziner with Tod Andrews, Margaret Phillips, Monica Boyar and Anne Jackson (as the girl John ends up with). The play ran for 102 performances. This play was, perhaps not surprisingly, a letdown in the kind of popularity that had attended his previous play A Streetcar Named Desire although it explored similar themes and explicitly referenced that play's Moon Lake Casino.

In 1952, Geraldine Page played the lead role in a revival directed by José Quintero at the newly founded Circle in the Square Theatremarker in downtown New York (the theatre was on Bleecker Street). Her legendary performance is credited with the beginning of the Off-Broadway movement, putting both Page and Quintero on the map and vindicating the play itself. Page went on to portray Alma in the film version of the play opposite Laurence Harvey.

The play was revived in 1996 at the Criterion Center Stage Right in New York, in a production directed by David Warren, with Harry Hamlin and Mary McDonnell. Laila Robins and Amanda Plummer have been notable Almas in regional theatre productions.

West End

London had to wait nearly sixty years for the premiere of Summer and Smoke. It opened at the Apollo Theatremarker on 17 October 2006. The production, directed by Adrian Noble and starring Rosamund Pike and Chris Carmack first opened at the Nottingham Playhousemarker in September, prior to its London transfer. It closed ten weeks short of its planned sixteen week run due to disappointing ticket sales.

Other revivals

In January 2007, the Paper Mill Playhousemarker presented a revival starring Amanda Plummer and Kevin Anderson, directed by Michael Wilson.

In the spring of 2008, Off-Broadway group The Actors Company Theatre presented a revival of the 1964 revision of the play, "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale," which received a favorable notice from The New York Times.

University Performances

In October 2008, Pace University put on a successful run, starring Jordan Gosnell as Alma and Tommy Slivinski as John.

This coming fall The Ohio State University will be doing their own production of Summer and Smoke

Adaptations

In 1961, a film adaptation, directed by Peter Glenville and starring Laurence Harvey, Rita Moreno, and Geraldine Page reprising her role as Alma, was released by Paramount Pictures.

A television version was produced in 1972. It starred Lee Remick, David Hedison, and Barry Morse. Another production, called Eccentricities of a Nightingale, appeared on television in 1976. This version starred Blythe Danner and Frank Langella.

An operatic treatment of the play exists as well, composed by Lee Hoiby.




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