With "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale," Tennessee Williams' 1951 revision of his earlier play "Summer and Smoke," Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice continues its 30th anniversary season with a quietly remarkable production.
Williams preferred "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" to its predecessor. Despite my affection for both plays — Actors Co-op recently staged a first-rate "Smoke" — the delicate amalgam of pathos and poetry mined by director Dana Jackson and her proficient cast here raises a persuasive argument for Williams' opinion.
Both plays follow minister's daughter Alma Winemiller (a superb Ginna Carter), who yearns for the diffident boy-next-door John Buchanan Jr. (an effectively understated Andrew Dits). Where "Nightingale" differs is in a less melodramatic climax, easier conversational flow and radically altered path to the same poignant conclusion.
The Rev. Winemiller (Brad Greenquist) reads more sympathetic in his dealings with his spinster daughter and his mentally unstable wife (Mary Jo Deschanel, mother of Zooey and Emily). Alma's bevy of culture vultures — Paul Anderson, Joan Chodorow, Choppy Guillotte and Amy Huntington — are less broadly archetypal, placing Alma's outsider status in a realistic social context.
John's possessive mother (gimlet-eyed Rita Obermayer) lends an Oedipal undercurrent to his interactions with Alma. Their ambivalent attraction culminates in a tremulous hotel room tryst that ranks among Williams' most lyrical achievements.
Carter, who recalls early-period Kathy Bates, inhabits Alma with subtlety and spontaneity, delivering her lines as though for the first time. She works beautifully with Dits, his Roman profile and laconic approach most apt, and she is transcendent at the apotheosis with a traveling salesman (Derek Chariton).
Director Jackson maintains a fluctuating inner pulse, if occasionally a shade over-languid. The design team — Kis Knekt (set), Christopher Moscatiello (sound), Ken Booth (lighting) and Christine Cover Ferro (costumes) — delivers evocative work.
This richly atmospheric, emotionally rewarding revival holds our rapt attention. Williams devotees and newcomers alike should flock.
"The Eccentricities of a Nightingale," Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 14. $25-$34. (310) 822-8392 or www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.