ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE by Tennessee Williams at Aurora

Mrs. Winemiller (c, Amy Crumpacker*) tells a fanciful story to her holiday guests, John (c. right, Thomas Gorrebeeck*) and Mrs. Buchanan (r, Marcia Pizzo*), to the horror of Alma (l, Beth Wilmurt) and Reverend Winemiller (c. left, Charles Dean*)

Photo by David Allen

ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Tom Ross. Aurora Theatre Company, Aurora, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. Tix ($34-$45) call or (510) 843-4822 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (510) 843-4822 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. April 7 - May 8, 2011.

ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE at Aurora Theatre an Engrossing Evening

To celebrate the 100th birth date of Tennessee Williams, Tom Ross and the award winning Aurora Theatre are displaying his lesser-known and rarely produced play The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. The play that had its inception as the maligned Summer and Smoke was re-worked into its present form. Williams kept the time, place and characters intact but changed the emphasis giving more depth to his major character.

Alma Winemiller (Beth Wilmurt) is that major character. She is the only daughter of the self-pitying Rev. Winemiller (Charles Dean) and mentally ill mother (Amy Crumpacker). Williams is famous for his ability to create repressed psychologically unstable women. The Nightingale takes place in the depressing confines of a small Mississippi town where Alma comes to life. It is pre-World War I and Alma earns the name of a nightingale for the many recitals she gives at social functions and for her singing lessons. The opening scene takes place on the Fourth of July suggesting future emotional conflict to match the fireworks.

Alma is the object of derision by the town folk for her eccentric hand motions, facial expressions and body language that she uses to give meaning to her singing. In a heart-rending scene, her father reluctantly points out these eccentricities reminding her that similar traits were the beginning of her mother’s mental condition. Although she does rein in some of eccentricities, you can feel the first steps of Alma’s future rebellion.

Belonging to a “cultural” group who meet weekly to share their artistic/intellectual endeavors is an outward expression of her resistance to conformity.

She seems destined for spinsterhood but the attraction for neighbor John Buchanan, a young handsome doctor, stirs more than the cockles of her heart. John, for his part admires Alma’s free spirit but is fully aware that his domineering mother (Marcia Pizzo) has plans for him to marry into rich society. As directed by Ross, in one particular scene between John and his mother, there is more than a suggestion of unrequited incest.

Finally able to be together without John’s intrusive mother about, Alma and John retire to a honky-tonk hotel were the rooms are rented by the hour. It is dynamite of a scene with some of Williams’ best poetic writing. Symbolically it is New Years eve, and a life-changing event for Alma but not for John. The epilog, taking place years later, again during a Fourth of July celebration is almost, but not quite, a Blanche Dubois line “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Beth Wilmut gives a tour-de-force performance ranging from incessant chatter, confused emotions, verbal strength, aching longing and insecurity manifesting as hyperventilation syndrome. Marcia Pizzo dominates the action with her beautiful expression of haughty demeanor exuding social class privilege. One of the best-written scenes opens the second act with a meeting of the “cultural group.” Ryan Tasker, Leanne Borghesi, Beth Deitchman and Charles Dean (dual role) interact like a well-oiled machine giving distinct personalities to their roles. Thomas Gorrebeeck has the unenviable task of acting as sounding board for Alma and his mother but does add pathos to the seduction scene telling Alma he is not in love with her.

The staging is a bit cumbersome on Liliana Duque Pinerio’s inventive but cramped set with effective light cues by Jim Cave. Special accolades go to costume designer Laura Hazlett, especially for the costumes worn by Mrs. Buchanan (Marcia Pizzo). Running time a bit over two hours with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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