Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer is set in the Garden District in the 1930s, and takes place in a garden over the course of an afternoon. Following its 1958 premiere off-Broadway, there was speculation about which home inspired the setting. But in the run-up to Southern Rep's opening of Suddenly, Last Summer as the premiere production at Ashe Cultural Arts Center's new Ashe Power House, people have been asking director Aimee Hayes about another feature.
"People keep asking me if there's an elevator," Hayes says. "There's no elevator."
In the 1959 movie version starring Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, Taylor played Catherine Holly, a young woman traumatized by witnessing the murder of her cousin Sebastian while vacationing in Europe. Hepburn starred as Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, an imposing, rich woman who doesn't want Catherine to say anything about her son and pushes to have a doctor (Clift) lobotomize her. In the film, Venable imperiously entered and exited scenes from her mansion's elevator.
Ashe Power House is impressive, but it does not have an onstage elevator.
"We walked through the space and it's dynamic," Hayes says. "It's beautiful and state of the art. It works as a theater in a traditional way and can serve a lot of other types of productions — music, dance; it has retractable seats."
The premiere continues a relationship between Southern Rep, which has not found a permanent space since leaving its longtime home at The Shops at Canal Place three years ago. Last season, it presented Broomstick, a witch tale by New Orleans playwright John Biguenet, at Ashe. Ashe co-founder and Executive Director Carol Bebelle also has worked with Southern Rep on its New Play Bacchanal.
The production also continues Southern Rep's relationship with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. In recent years, it has produced Williams' classics A Streetcar Named Desire and The Night of the Iguana to coincide with the annual literary event. Suddenly, Last Summer stars Brenda Currin (Venable), who won an Obie Award for her role in My Sister in This House, and Beth Bartley (Catherine), who performed on Broadway in the Tony Award-nominated Fortune's Fool. Currin has participated in the Tennessee Williams Festival before and been involved with Southern Rep's New Play Bacchanal.
Suddenly, Last Summer runs March 7-29 (previews March 4-6). Visit www.southernrep.com for ticket information.