Theater Review: THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE (L.A. – Glendale)

by Harvey Perr on April 30, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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IN PRAISE OF ECCENTRICITIES

It is not surprisng that Tennessee Williams preferred The Eccentricities of a Nightingale to Summer and Smoke. Freed of the conflict between Puritanism (repressed sexuality) and science (sexual liberation), Eccentricities is also freed from a good deal of the melodrama which afflicted Smoke. Instead, Williams offered up a delicate character study of Alma Winemuller, the minister’s spinsterish daughter, who wants so desperately to expand her horizons but who, unfortunately, cannot see much beyond the lace curtains of her bedroom window. What she sees is the house of her next-door neighbors, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams at A Noise Withinthe Buchanans, whose son John, a medical student, home for the holidays, has been the source of her fixation since childhood. Having no real life of her own, she performs her life, fluttering and swooning and endlessly chattering about the life inside her head.

In A Noise Within’s captivating production, under the extraordinarily sensitive direction of Dámaso Rodriguez, Deborah Puette, in an exquisitely calibrated performance, brings Alma to life in a series of feints and passes that would put most matadors to shame. It is fascinating to watch an actor nail a character while circling around it. The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams at A Noise WithinThis Alma is, to tell the truth, more bothersome than seductive, more irritating than charming, and, in her vulnerability, perhaps a lot closer to the madness that her mother has already given into. But she is also as beguiling as a fragile porcelain figure. One understands totally John Buchanan’s attraction to her, just as one understands why he can’t really love her. No small part of this is due to the remarkable softness with which Jason Dechert plays the part. Their pas de deux is as good as acting gets; they seem palpably in tune with each other, so much so that we can see Alma through John’s eyes every bit as vividly as we see John through Alma’s eyes. It is not an easy play to do – I have seen four productions, none of which has captured so The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams at A Noise Withinbeautifully the gentle tenuousness of this relationship – and it glows as evanescently as it does because of the quietly elegant magic that Puette and Dechert convey.

Williams‘s reputation for creating memorable women is borne out by the exceptional performances of the cast’s actresses – as is also the case in the equally sturdy production of A House Not Meant to Stand at the Fountain Theatre – which includes Christopher Callan’s formidable and forbidding Mrs. Buchanan, Jill Hill’s remarkable clear-headedness even as she descends into lunacy as Alma’s mother, and Jacque Lynn Colton’s monumentally silly but all-too-human Mrs. Bassett, one of the members of Alma’s club of local misfits.

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale by Tennessee Williams at A Noise WithinThe entire production – thanks to Joel Daavid’s dream-like set, James P. Taylor’s subtle lighting, and Leah Piehl’s evocative costumes – bears a whiff of frayed valentines and magic lanterns and a sense of what it must have been like one summer a long time ago in Glorious Hill, Mississippi. Its moment in time, so gorgeously created by Tennessee Williams, revives one’s interest in a play that has not always been treated so lovingly or has seemed so stageworthy. The Eccentricities of a Nightingale shimmers.

Summer has arrived.

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Craig Schwartz

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale
scheduled to close May 28 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.anoisewithin.org/

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rose Topping February 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

Harvey,
I intend to read all your revieus tonight after I come home from Hospice.’Am working double days.

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