This Southerner is eternally grateful to Tennessee Lanier Williams for expressing the complex feelings of frustration, pent up sexual energy, and a burning desire to be free that is part of the Southern landscape. It cost Williams a breakdown, but when he recovered, he was able to create a poetic and expressive picture of the essence of Southern-ness.
In Eccentricities of a Nightingale, he presents a character I have met many times: Ms. Alma Winemiller. Somehow Tina Brock made me recognize Alma, almost as if I had travelled back in time fifty years for a visit home. Brock gave Alma a most natural, believable set of eccentricities, accent, gestures, and dreams of fulfillment that made me sit up in my seat because I recognized them.
Alma tries to be dutiful and kind, tending to her mentally incapacitated mother (played with vibrant insanity by Jane Moore) and to a motley crew of misfits she calls her “club”. She craves a chance to enjoy romance and focuses on the boy next door, John Buchanan, Jr., (John Zak) who is more closely guarded than Fort Knox by his indomitable mother, played with brittle and brutal Southern viciousness by Carol Florence.
The set was minimal, arranged in the round at the Bethany Mission Gallery, whose space was kindly loaned to IRC by Victor Keen and his wife, Jeanne Ruddy. The players used the center as the main stage – moving small pieces of scenery and furniture to change the set.
Tina Brock’s direction allowed movement to the center and corners so that the entire cast came near the audience members and everyone had a close and personal view of the characters. The costuming by Erica Hoelscher was fantastic. The kerchief Mrs. Buchanan put on her head when she arose from her bed to check on her son gave her a rather babuschka-like fierceness and Alma’s mother, Mrs. Winemiller, wore a puritanistic bonnet that said it all.
A surprising and delightful addition was the town band – led by trombonist Mark Williams crashing cymbals, drum, accordion, and melodica.
I so loved the characters, especially Alma, that I could not help but look for her after the show just to chat a bit about the South. Unfortunately, a fairy godmother had turned the idiosyncratic Alma into a very modern and sophisticated Tina Brock. My Alma had left. She was obviously just a figment of Tennessee Williams’ imagination – but she managed to provide words and gestures which express so much about life in the South.
[Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortiium at the Bethany Mission Gallery, 1527 Brandywine Street] September 4-23, 2018; IdiopathicRidiculopathyConsortium.org