The Plays of Summer

Special Features   The Plays of Summer
Now that summer is here, Playbill Senior Editor Louis Botto finds himself reminiscing about shows that have that season in their title.

Take, for instance, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. There have been many productions of this fantasy, one of the most spectacular being the 1954 revival produced by London's Old Vic theatre company at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Moira Shearer and Robert Helpmann played Titania and Oberon, and while their dancing was praised by critic Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times, he felt that the Mendelssohn music detracted from the play. The Royal Shakespeare Company has brought the play to Broadway twice, in 1971 and 1996. The latter production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Revival.

A Thousand Summers, a 1932 play by Merrill Rogers, told of a wealthy European woman whose affair with an older man turns sour. She then takes up with a younger lover and follows him to Paris. The play was not a success, despite its brilliant cast: Jane Cowl, Osgood Perkins, Franchot Tone and the memorable Josephine Hull.

End of Summer, one of S.N. Behrman's most delightful high comedies, opened in 1936. It starred the radiant Ina Claire, Osgood Perkins and Van Heflin. Ms. Claire played a wealthy beauty surrounded by young liberals. She doesn't realize that if the revolution the liberals are proposing ever happened, it would mean her end. Mr. Heflin once told me a charming story about the play. "At one performance," he recalled, "Ina was supposed to cross the stage to turn on a lamp. Before she got there, the lamp went on. She turned to the audience, winked and said, 'Magic.'"

Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke had the misfortune of being his first play to open after his wildly successful A Streetcar Named Desire. Critics compared the work unfavorably to Streetcar, with John Chapman calling it "A Kiddycar Named Desire." A 1952 Off-Broadway revival of the play was a huge success, however, launching the careers of actress Geraldine Page and distinguished director Jose Quintero.

Williams' one-act play Suddenly Last Summer (1958), part of an evening of two one-act plays collectively titled Garden District, was a shocking tale of homosexuality and cannibalism. It fared much better on film, starring Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. In the Summer House (1953) by Jane Bowles, with musical background by her husband, Paul Bowles, starred Judith Anderson but was a talky, pretentious bore. It only lasted 55 performances.

All Summer Long (1954), Robert Anderson's second Broadway play, was not as successful as his first (Tea and Sympathy), but the critics admired his writing.

N. Richard Nash's 1956 play, The Girls of Summer, was notable for Shelley Winters' performance and the inclusion of a song by Stephen Sondheim.

William Inge reworked his hit play Picnic (1953) and called it Summer Brave. It was produced on Broadway in 1975, but critics agreed the original was better.

A 1969 musical called Come Summer failed, even with the great Ray Bolger as its star.

That Summer - That Fall, a 1967 play by Frank D. Gilroy, was a retelling of the incestuous Phaedra legend. Even though it starred Irene Papas, Jon Voight and Tyne Daly, it played only 12 performances.

Finally, and appropriately, there was 1937's Farewell Summer. The play was about a biologist whose unlucky love life leads her to pursue celibacy. Her virtue lasted only eight performances.

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