Eccentricities of a Nightingale
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Pacific Resident Theater
Through August 14
Eccentricities of a Nightingale was Tennessee Williams’ 1951 rewrite of his earlier Summer and Smoke. It was supposedly his preferred version of the story, and one can see why. The main character of Alma is more clearly delineated, and the drama springs more from her choices than from fate. The current production at Pacific Resident Theater benefits from Dana Jackson’s sensitive direction and a knockout lead performance.
In the conservative town of Glorious Hill, Mississippi, Alma (Ginna Carter) is seen as an eccentric, someone to be tolerated and quietly pitied. She wears her enthusiasms on her sleeve, enjoys things too much and, worst of all (to some), is considered “almost pretty.” She lives with her father, Reverend Winemiller (Brad Greenquist) and her mentally ill mother (Mary Jo Deschanel) in a church rectory, and contributes to the household by giving music lessons and teaching Sunday school. Things change for her, though, when John (Andrew Dits), her longtime unattainable crush, returns home for a visit. Alma decides, in her tentative way, to let him know how she feels about him, regardless of the consequences.
Carter succeeds beautifully in presenting Alma’s mingling of vulnerability and strength, her body shaking with so much joy and anxiety that it seems she’ll burst from experiencing life too deeply. It’s a lovely and memorable performance and does Williams proud. Dits is effectively quiet and gentle as John, but unfortunately Williams’ rewrite of his character removes much of its complexity. Greenquist is excellent as the singularly unsympathetic Reverend, who tries to squash his daughter’s individuality, but Deschanel struggles with a role Williams never seemed to get quite right in either version of this play. As John’s possessive mother, Rita Obermeyer deftly portrays a particularly Southern kind of disdain.
Jackson’s direction focuses on the poetry of Williams’ language and the heightened emotions of his characters, from Alma’s frenzies of feeling to the petty infighting within her artistic group. Jackson’s rendering of the opening scene combines Ken Booth’s delicate lighting and Christopher Moscatiello’s vivid sound design to evocative effect. If Smoke is a tragedy, Eccentricities seems more like the drama of a woman determining what she wants out of her life and acting towards her goal, even if the results might be painful.
Williams’ fans and lovers of great acting should seek out this impressive and moving production.
Pacific Resident Theater, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.- Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; through Aug. 14. www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Running time: two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission