NEW REVIEW GO THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE

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Photo by Craig Schwartz

It's New Year's Eve in Tennessee Williams' drama, and Alma Winemiller is enchanted by the crisp snaps of "frosty branches crackin'," but she's so flushed with an inner flame she's shed jacket, scarf and gloves. Deborah Puette's Alma is burning, set alight by a firecracker the recently graduated doctor John Buchanan (Jason Dechert, in a role made for him) casually tosses at her during Glorious Hill, Mississippi's Fourth of July celebration. But Alma isn't like the pretty, simple girls who have surrounded the eligible Buchanan up north. Nearing spinsterhood, she's the town eccentric, who scatters crumbs for birds in the square and is given to heart palpitations that seem a result of the fluttery bird beating about in her own chest. Simultaneously attracted ("The light keeps changin' in [her eyes]") and repelled ("It's not lit," he says in the heartbreaking penultimate scene, crudely referring to his sexual desire), Buchanan engages with Alma as an almost scientific experiment. Yet Williams refuses to allow such cold sterility, and in a scene so charged it leaves you smoldering in your seat, Buchanan examines a frantic Alma, uttering possibly the most erotic three words ever written by a playwright. Director Damaso Rodriguez dances the entire production through the play's musicality on a stage lit beautifully by James P. Taylor in the soft gauziness that Williams' "romantic clichés" demand. In fact, the only slip is that early on, Puette rests on an overactive accent. But by the second act, even that flaw is forgiven, and as Williams' ever-tragic tide begins to come in, the only thing to do is let it wash over you. A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; runs in repertory thru May 28. (818) 240-0910, see anoisewithin.org. (Rebecca Haithcoat)