Three Chautauqua stars tread the boards for ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ dramatic reading

Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

Geof Follansbee acquiesced to play George Holly in the Chautauqua Women’s Club dramatic reading of Tennessee Williams’ play Suddenly Last Summer at 4 p.m. Friday in Fletcher Music Hall despite the fact that his last theatrical appearance was as a fifth grader.

“I’m just pleased to be able to support the CWC fundraiser,” he said.

He is joined by Institution Vice President and Director of Programming Marty Merkley as Dr. Cukrowicz, and Director of the Department of Religion the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell as Sister Felicity. The three agreed they were happy to “tread the boards” to support the CWC. They play minor but important roles in the production and, regardless of Follansbee’s caveat, are all comfortable on stage.

Campbell offered a gleeful take on her part.

“It’s a wonderful role — Karen Armstrong, a former nun, and Joan Chittister, a nun, have told me how to sit, how to fold my hands, the proper demeanor,” she said. “They also said I was miscast — I use my hands too much.”

CWC members complete the cast. Ann Fletcher plays Catharine Holly; Susan Laubach, Mrs. Venable; Anita Holec, Miss Foxhill; Lee Chaverin White, Mrs. Holly. Paula Mason will narrate.

Fletcher — who may be remembered for her performance with Institution President Thomas M. Becker in the July 2010 dramatic reading of Love Letters, also a CWC fundraiser — is the force behind the production. In her directorial debut this year, she chose the play, cast the players and will read the role of Catharine Holly.

“The Royal Palm Players of Boca Grande did this as a literature forum reading. It was well received so much so that we performed it two weeks later to a full house,” Fletcher said. “My husband, Bob, said, ‘You have to do this at Chautauqua as a fundraiser for the CWC.’ ”

Though this afternoon’s performance does not require the cast to memorize their parts, it does require interpretation, concentration and practice. Cast members have been reading lines together in informal rehearsal.

The play was first performed in 1958, and Fletcher said she believes it is still important, though admitting it is not a happy, summery play.

“The play is about how people misuse each other; it is about universal human behavior,” she said.

She suggested that the audience not read the play before they come, saying that hearing other voices interpreting the roles offers a different insight and understanding of the author’s message.

Fletcher’s casting builds on the experience and talent of the CWC members. Laubauch, a SAG-AFTRA and Equity performer, performs at The Players club and Stage Left Studio in New York City. Chaverin-White has taught modeling and has been a spokesperson for Sarasota Opera’s speakers bureau. Mason is chairman of the CWC board and is accustomed to public speaking. Holec’s husband is a physician, and she plays the nurse.

Suddenly Last Summer was first performed by the York Playhouse in 1958. It was part of a double bill of one-act plays titled The Garden District. The film version opened in 1959 with Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift. Both women received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Author and playwright Gore Vidal wrote the film script. Revivals include a 1993 PBS “Great Performances” production starring Rob Lowe, Dame Maggie Smith and Natasha Richardson, and a 2004 London and a 2006 off-Broadway production.

Tickets may be purchased at the Chautauqua Women’s Club. Premier tickets are $100, grand tickets are $50, and general tickets are $35. Though reservations are preferred, tickets will be available at the door. Proceeds from the event provide support for CWC-sponsored student scholarships, programs and CWC facilities.

Update: This story has ben updated to correct the spelling of Lee Chaverin White’s name as well as correcting her workplace as Sarasota Opera, not Opera Saratoga.