Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer is a one-act play by Tennessee Williams. It opened Off-Broadway on January 7, 1958 as part of a double-bill with another one of Williams' one-act plays: Something Unspoken. The presentation of the two plays was given the overall title Garden District, but Suddenly Last Summer is more often performed alone now. The play, which is basically made up of two long monologues, is one of Williams' starkest and most poetic works.


The play features Catherine Holly, a young woman who seems to go insane after her cousin Sebastian dies on a trip to Europe under mysterious circumstances. Sebastian's mother, Violet Venable, tries to cloud the truth about her son's homosexuality and his death, as she wants him to be remembered as a great artist. She threatens to lobotomize Catherine for her incoherent utterances relating to Sebastian's demise. Finally, under the influence of a truth serum, Catherine tells the gruesome story of Sebastian's death by cannibalism at the hand of local boys whose sexual favors he sought. Both his mother and later Catherine were only devices for him to attract the young men.


As with many Williams plays, the play incorporates elements from Williams' own life along with elements from the life of his idol, poet Hart Crane. Williams' sister Rose was compelled to undergo a lobotomy at the instigation of their domineering mother. Williams had begun psychoanalysis shortly before writing the play.

Adaptations and Productions

Original production

The original production of the play was performed Off-Broadway in 1958 and was staged by the York Playhouse. Anne Meacham won an Obie Award for her performance as Catherine. The production also featured Hortense Alden and Alan Mixon.

1959 film

Main article, see Suddenly, Last Summer (film)
The film version was released by Columbia Pictures, in 1959, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift. The movie was very different from the stage version, and was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and the screenplay was written by Gore Vidal and Williams. Many scenes, characters and subplots were added. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards: for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Katharine Hepburn), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Elizabeth Taylor) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. The Hollywood Production Code forced the filmmakers to cut out the explicit references to homosexuality.

Gore Vidal, who has a cameo in the film, reports in Vito Russo's book The Celluloid Closet and subsequent documentary that the censors of the day, especially the Catholic Legion of Decency, forced him to edit much of the dialogue so that the homosexual theme is only implied, and that the actual homosexual character does not have a face or a voice in the film. Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet, reports that Katharine Hepburn was so upset by the producer Sam Spiegel's treatment of Montgomery Clift during the making of this film -- Spiegel reportedly disliked Clift because he was gay -- that Hepburn, after confirming that all of her filming was completed, spat in Spiegel's face. Some sources state that it was also director Mankiewicz who shared the focus of Hepburn's outrage. Clift, who had nearly died in a car accident a few years earlier, was able to do the film at the insistence of close friend and co-star Elizabeth Taylor. The film also stars Albert Dekker and Mercedes McCambridge. Taylor, who won the Golden Globe award for the film, did not seem right for the role in the eyes of the playwright. "It stretched credulity to believe such a hip doll as our Liz wouldn't know she was being used for something evil," said Tennessee Williams.

BBC TV play

The play was adapted for BBC television in 1993 under the direction of Royal National Theatre head Richard Eyre and starring Maggie Smith, Rob Lowe, Richard E. Grant, and Natasha Richardson. It later aired in America on PBS and was very faithful to the original stage version. Smith won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie. Lowe revealed that his personal driver during the production of the telefilm was also the personal driver for Montgomery Clift on the 1959 version.

Broadway debut 1995

The play finally made its Broadway debut in 1995. It was performed together with Something Unspoken, the other one-act play that it originally appeared with under the title Garden District. It was presented by the Circle in the Square Theatre. The cast included Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Venable and Jordan Baker as Catherine.

London revival 2004

A 2004 London stage production, directed by Michael Grandage, featured Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton, who won the Evening Standard Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance. The production, which was staged at the Albery Theatre, received enthusiastic reviews.

Off-Broadway 2006

An Off-Broadway production in 2006 by the Roundabout Theatre Company starred Blythe Danner, Gale Harold and Carla Gugino.

External links

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