Within a few moments of watching "Summer and Smoke" at Utah Valley State College, the audience nervously twitches from the energy exuding from Heather Housley in Tennessee Williams' Southern melodrama.
She plays the pivotal role of Alma Winemiller, a repressed, slightly aging Southern belle whose nervous giggles border on the hysterical and whose gawky attempts at conversation do little to put anyone at ease.
After a few moments, something magical happens. Housley reveals Alma as a damaged, fragile bird stereotyped as an angel, but erroneously as an angel as cold and lifeless as the concrete seraph kneeling in supplication in the park. She has been shelved as a genteel, but unappealing, spinster.
Beneath that exterior, however, lies a woman with deep passion, particularly for a lifelong neighbor she has loved from her youth. Erik Crossett makes a capable John Buchanan, an intelligent young man who appears to abandon his promise as a physician to choose drinking, lust and gambling. He understands the difference that separates him and why she must remain Miss Winemiller not Alma to him.
When Alma openly reveals her love, it is touching, genuine, heartbreaking, and, above all, ironic. Housely shows a moment of luminous brilliance.
Most of the actors are fine, and some, such as George Lock, who plays John Buchanan's physician father, show an appealing naturalness. Deidre Wagner Hiatt, too, has the look and walk of a woman who could cause a man to deposit his sensibilities at her door.
James Arrington's skills as a director are evident in the stage movement, the performances he coaxes from relatively inexperienced players. and the smoothness with which the story flows."Summer and Smoke" is an interesting play, and some of the characters suggest the more deeply drawn, complex, and ultimately, the more interesting characters in his two earlier works, the classic "The Glass Menagerie" and "A Streetcar Named Desire." While worthy of note, this is a well-written and nicely staged work that might be better viewed as an historical piece in the Williams oeuvre.
Charlene Winters is a freelance writer who works as the director communications and marketing for BYU alumni. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org