The Eccentricities Of A Nightingale


Review by Willard Manus

Pacific Resident Theatre has celebrated its 30th anniversary by mounting a first-class production of THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, Tennessee Williams’ revision of his 1950s play, “Summer and Smoke.” Williams has said that he preferred “Eccentricities” over “Summer and Smoke” because “it is less conventional and melodramatic.” He also added that Alma Winemiller is his favorite character.

This time around Alma (vigorous, lustrous performance by Ginna Carter) is a more active character, fighting hard to win the heart of her girlhood crush, Dr. John Buchanan (Andrew Dits). The handsome young man has just returned to Glorious Hill, Mississippi, shortly before W W 1, after having graduated from John Hopkins.

In “Summer and Smoke,” John is the catalytic force, keen on introducing the timid, virginal Alma to the pleasures of the flesh. This time around though it’s Alma who wants to bed John, even though she knows he doesn’t love her the way she loves him. Alma might be nervous, excitable and eccentric when it comes time for her to sing in public, but she can always find the strength to stand up to John, even challenge him. She is also able to laugh at her own foibles.

John is made of softer stuff, putty in the hands of his domineering and snobbish mother (Rita Obermeyer). She wants her golden boy to marry an elegant, upper-class girl, not the frumpy daughter of the Reverend Winemiller (Brad Greenquist), who is not only poor and dour but has a batty mother in the attic (Mary Jo Deschanel).

To his credit, John treats Alma with respect and affection, having long recognized what a special kind of person she is, highly strung but deeply feeling and intelligent. Williams writes about them with delicacy and understanding, particularly in the play’s key scene, when Alma persuades John to take her to a seedy hotel room. The way Williams probes character, deals with the many sides of their intense, complicated relationship, is remarkable, the work of a master playwright.

The drama in ECCENTRICITIES is on the muted, underplayed side, but there are flashes of humor, especially in the scene where Alma and a handful of fellow-art lovers meet to discuss a William Blake poem and collaborate on a manifesto. Williams’ satire of these genteel, pretentious but well-meaning folk is both sharp and funny.

Director Dana Jackson deserves high praise for having put together this well-acted, finely-wrought production of Williams’ worthy play.

(Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd. 310-822-8392 or