AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Tennessee Williams
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" by Tennessee Williams is seldom produced, but the Aurora Theatre Company production makes a strong case for wider audiences. Intelligently directed by Tom Ross and presented in ATC's intimate theater, it presents several interesting characters, including Alma Winemiller, the nightingale of the title. As played by Beth Wilmurt and first seen singing in the town square shortly before July 4 fireworks, Alma has a sweet singing voice but an excess of expansive gestures. Thereafter, she's a nervous, non-stop talker. Small wonder the people of the small town of Glorious Hill, Miss., talk about her or ridicule her behind her back shortly before World War I.

Alma isn't the only fascinating character. In fact, several characters could become the focal points of their own plays. Take, for example, John Buchanan Jr. (Thomas Gorrebeeck). He's back visiting his family after becoming a physician. This play shows him to be a very smart man (magna cum laude from Johns Hopkins) and a very kind man who spends time with Alma, his next-door neighbor and longtime friend. He's also the son of the town doctor, who's never seen but who apparently has his own health issues. The major influence in his life seems to be his domineering mother, Mrs. Buchanan (Marcia Pizzo), a good-looking, hypocritical Southern belle who disapproves of Alma and does her best to keep John away from her. Her concern for John borders on the incestuous, as seen in the bedroom scene that closes Act 1. It would be fascinating to see a play from John's perspective and to see if and how he escapes his mother's clutches. Likewise, it would be interesting to see how she got to be the way she is and how she deals with John as he begins his new career.

Not to be overlooked are Alma's parents, the Rev. Winemiller (Charles Dean) and Mrs. Winemiller (Amy Crumpacker). Williams only alludes to the fact that the Episcopalian pastor's flock is shrinking and that higher-ups in the church are considering offering him an early retirement deal. Then there's the burden of a wife who's seriously mentally disturbed and delusional. How did they meet and marry, and what might have triggered her illness?

But the play doesn't concern itself so much with any of those people as it does Alma. Wilmurt reflects all of the vulnerabilities of this youngish spinster, a woman who has long loved John but who realizes that their relationship can never become serious because of her family's history of mental illness and her lack of wealth. Moreover, John doesn't love her even though he cares for her. In fact, he cares for her enough to become the medium through which she allows more of her true self to come through no matter what others might think.

All five principal actors are terrific in their roles, especially Wilmurt, Crumpacker and Pizzo. The set is by Liliana Duque PiƱeiro, with lighting by Jim Cave, period costumes by Laura Hazlett and sound by Ted Crimy. "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" may not be on a par with Williams' greatest plays, like "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "The Glass Menagerie," but it's still makes for engrossing theater with a lot to think about afterward.

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