Though written during the fertile period of Tennessee Williams’s career that birthed The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke is less often revived. The Den’s production suggests a possible reason: The 1948 play is much more atmospheric, lacking the conflict between Tom and Amanda Wingfield or the rising tension between Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois.
Instead, we get the conflicted feelings churning within one young woman, the prim, sexually repressed preacher’s kid Alma Winemiller (Eve Rydberg). Prone to genteel affectations and hysterics, Alma is stricken by her longtime love for her childhood best friend, John Buchanan Jr. (Josh Odor), who’s now returned from medical school a ne’er-do-well who frequents cockfights and loose women. John is interested in Alma as well, but seemingly only physically.
As Alma pines and John lusts, not a whole lot else happens until an unlikely tragedy that sends both in opposite directions: John reforms himself, while Alma gives in to physical pleasures. Ryan Martin’s large supporting cast can’t seem to agree on the tenor of the production, some teetering into broad comedy. But Rydberg and Odor have a palpable chemistry at the play’s center; you can feel the summer heat between them.