In honor of the 100th birthday year of great American playwright, Tennessee Williams, NC State’s University Theatre staged two of Williams’ one-act plays, Something Unspoken and Suddenly Last Summer. These two southern stories, set in the Garden District of New Orleans, compose the full-length performance entitled Garden District. Something Unspoken tells the story of two elderly women through a series of telephone conversations between Cornelia Scott, played by Jan Morgan, and her various callers from the Daughters of the Confederacy. Between calls, she attempts to elicit a meaningful conversation from her live-in secretary of fifteen years, Grace, played by NC State sophomore Alexandra Hubbell. While Cornelia wishes to claim the office of regent in her chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, with roundabout southern gentility she avoids the election in hopes that she will be unanimously offered the position. As her expectations crumble beneath her, she finds solace as any respectable southern lady does – by politely prying into someone else’s affairs. To this end, if Jan Morgan isn’t southern, she should be. From her old-fashioned southern drawl to her passive-aggressive problem solving, Morgan nailed the character of well-to-do Cornelia Scott. Alexandra Hubbell’s job was a bit more odious when it came to portraying a mature and subdued secretary as an undergraduate student. Although it was challenging for the audience to see past the discrepancy between the actor’s and the character’s ages, Hubbell’s youth lent itself well to Grace’s submission to her employer. In Something Unspoken, Tennessee Williams drops his audience into the middle of a subtly-crafted confrontation and pulls his observers out before any resolution is reached.

Suddenly Last Summer offers no more answers, even as it pushes members of the audience further from their comfort zone. With Andrew Korhonen’s dramatic lighting design and the intense dialogue in their intimate studio theatre, University Theatre nearly created “theatre of cruelty,” characterized by an assault on the audience’s senses. Lynda Clark provided a solid foundation for twisted plot development with her honest and dynamic portrayal of the severe Violet Venable. With such macabre content, shows of this nature can tend toward melodrama and lose some of the weight in the text. The cast did a commendable job evolving to the manic terror of Catherine’s horrific description of her cousin’s death in Spain. Ron Steinberg captured the dark humor of Tennessee Williams with his delivery of Doctor Cukrowicz’s off-hand suggestion that the girl’s terrifying, compelling story that the audience is so moved by, “may be true.”

From southern women to cannibalistic murder, Tennessee Williams remains one of America’s greatest playwrights, appropriately honored at NC State in celebration of his 100th birthday year.

Note: The author worked with Lynda Clark during the 2011 summer production of The Lost Colony.