Handling the play with the greatest respect for the unique subtleties of the great playwright Tennessee Williams, A Noise Within presents a haunting production of “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.” Focused acting and sensitive direction are complemented by artistic scenery, lighting and sound.
Similar to Williams’ classics “The Glass Menagerie” and “Streetcar Named Desire,” the lesser-known “Eccentricities of a Nightingale” is the story of an emotionally raw young woman caught in a world that doesn’t understand her. It is a study of unfulfilled dreams and unrequited love, but also personal empowerment.
In keeping with Williams’ tradition of encouraging innovative, expressionistic staging, scenic designer Joel Daavid created a three-dimensional Victorian-era backdrop with turning gears and screens for flickering film images and actors’ silhouettes. The music-hall-era soundtrack adds to the Steampunk feel.
The scenery also suggests an antique bird cage, a fitting setting for the central character, Alma Winemiller (played by Deborah Puette), a socially awkward woman longing for freedom of expression but caught in the cage of a stifling family. It’s classic Williams. Alma falls in love with an aspiring doctor next door, but his mother will have none of it. Alma and the doctor continue to have strange and emotionally prickly rendezvous but their relationship never fully develops. Director Damaso Rodriguez handles the delicate subject matter of this eccentric spinster’s unrequited love with care, and the actors, for the most part, play their parts with depth and controlled emotion.
The protagonist, Alma Winemiller, played by Deborah Puette, was, for me, a revelation. I did not know the play before seeing this production (it is one of Williams’ lesser-known works) and I had no expectations. At first, Alma was annoying and I thought it was the actress’ fault. In fact, it was the actress’ intention to irritate, just as Alma irritates most of the townsfolk with her peculiarities.
“Your hands fly about you like a pair of wild birds,” declares her exasperated father.
Puette’s Alma grows on you, and you sheepishly realize you’ve been part of that small-town intolerance. We learn to admire her courageous honesty and loathe the people and circumstances that stand in the way of this caged bird’s happiness. In the end Alma chooses to exile herself in a brilliant, yet unsettling, denouement.
No less convincing in their parts are Jason Dechert as her love interest, John Buchanan; Christopher Callen plays his interfering mother. Dechert, as Buchanan, shows an interesting detachment as he navigates the world between his mother’s crushing edicts and Alma’s infatuation with him. Callen’s Mrs. Buchanan has a fierceness that suits her Southern aristocratic position to a tee.
Mitchell Edmonds lacks his usual power playing Alma’s father, Reverend Winemiller. And while Jill Hill is good as Alma’s mentally disturbed mother, she fails to impress upon us the deeper meaning of her presence. There are evident similarities between her and Alma that foreshadow Alma’s probable future of madness, but one can’t help but feel there’s something missing.
Like a good drama should, this production leaves you with an internal residue, something to observe and ponder the next few days. Thank goodness A Noise Within continues to bring classic works like this to light.
Lisa Dupuy has been reviewing local theater since 2003. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Tennessee Williams’ “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale”
Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale
When: In repertory through May 28
Tickets: $46 Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees; $42 Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings and Saturday matinees
Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1