Theater review: ‘The Eccentricities of a Nightingale’ at A Noise Within
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There have always been Sue Sylvesters. Those shame-inducing, joy-killing gym coaches of the soul have ever been with us, ready to crush an artistic spirit at the first sign of self-expression. And a “Glee” club to the rescue is all that’s missing from “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale,” now at A Noise Within.
Tennessee Williams flips the script on the spinster stereotype with Alma Winemiller (Deborah Puette), the daughter of a starchy minister (Mitchell Edmonds) and his mentally disturbed wife (Jill Hill), trapped in a small Mississippi town just before World War I.
Like a caged bird, the socially anxious but imaginative Alma can display passion only in song--until John Buchanan (Jason Dechert) comes home from medical school for the holidays. On track to marry well and excel professionally, a restless John sees in Alma the kind of honesty he cannot claim for himself. She’s drawn to the clarity of his beauty and curiosity. Their awkward encounters--half-therapy, half-seduction--are the production’s vivid, human center.
With its backdrop of antiques suspended in air, Joel Daavid’s set evokes the languid world of Deep South mores, church gossip and airless nights. Nothing in this nostalgic (read: repressed) world seems truly alive except Alma’s time with John. Under Dámaso Rodriguez’s direction, Puette gives a fearless performance: manic, swoony, exposed, acute —a being struggling to break free. Dechert deftly underplays his John, a steady tenor vibe to Puette’s lyric soprano.
Rodriguez doesn’t always escape Williams’ excesses, and the meeting of Alma’s fellow “eccentrics” teeters dangerously toward camp. The production reveals more when it plays against type instead of leaning into it. Alma is sui generis—utterly unto herself. That is her victory and tragedy. --Charlotte Stoudt
“The Eccentricities of a Nightingale” A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. See website for schedule. Ends May 28. $42-$46. Contact: (818) 240-0910 or www.ANoiseWithin.org Running time: 2 hours.