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Suddenly Last Summer

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Gale Harold, Blythe Danner, ...
Suddenly Last Summer: Joan Marcus

We gave it a B-

No one does clenched-jaw WASPiness better than Blythe Danner (pictured, with Gale Harold). Unfortunately, her aptitude doesn’t extend to the aging belle at the cryptic center of Tennessee Williams’ New Orleans-set one-act. Danner is a dynamite stage actress and no stranger to Williams women (she got a Tony nom for her Blanche in 1988’s Streetcar Named Desire), but in Suddenly Last Summer, her fluttery demeanor is distracting rather than inspiring. And Gale (Queer As Folk) Harold’s ”Dr. Sugar” inspires more boredom than anything else. So we’re left to soak up the splendor of Santo Loquasto’s set, a stunning blend of tropical foliage, overgrown trees, and latticed wrought-ironwork ? it oozes oppression, fading beauty, and desperation.

But back to the plot. This may be one of Williams’ strangest plays: The manipulative Mrs. Venable (Danner) summons a handsome young-stud physician to lobotomize her niece, who’s supposedly spreading scandalous rumors about the mysterious Mexican murder of her homosexual son, Sebastian. (Of course, ”homosexual” is only implied — about 100 times — and was essentially obliterated from the 1959 Elizabeth Taylor?Katharine Hepburn?Montgomery Clift movie.) But the story is scandalously juicy, and the production comes alive around the halfway point, when Carla Gugino — so devastating as the doomed Marilyn Monroe figure in 2004’s After the Fall — hobbles in as the fragile, fiery lobotomy candidate Catherine. So pale she’s practically translucent, red lipstick defiantly streaked across her mouth, she’s electric. Once Catherine gets the truth serum — like we said, strange — and starts spilling her guts about what really happened in Cabeza de Lobo (translation: Wolf’s Head), Summer suddenly becomes entrancing. (Tickets: roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300)