“Suddenly last summer” is a refrain that runs through the many interrupted attempts of Catharine Holly to tell a psychologist the truth about what happened to Sebastian Venable along the harbor of an Italian resort, Cabeza de Lobo. He had been protected all of his life by his mother, and he had used her the last few years of his life to procure partners for his sexual appetite. On her part, Mrs. Venable will go to any length to preserve the reputation of her son as a poet, for to her “the work of a poet is the life of the poet” and vice versa. Together, she and Sebastian traveled widely and luxuriously for twenty years. During each summer, he composed a poem, which Mrs. Venable had compiled into a gilt-edged volume. Then one summer he suddenly stopped writing. It is what happened this summer, the final one in Sebastian’s rapidly deteriorating life, that Catharine, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner, must tell.
When Mrs. Venable had a stroke one summer, Sebastian asked Catharine Holly, his cousin, to travel with him in his mother’s place. Loving her cousin, even when she realized that she was being used as a lure to attract homosexual partners for him, she subsequently witnessed his physical mutilation by a mob of hungry young Italians who tore at his flesh, stuffing their mouths as they did so.
The play is set in the Garden District of New Orleans, a contrast with the old French Quarter setting of A Streetcar Named Desire. The setting includes the surrealistically lush,...
(The entire section is 628 words.)