Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is there a Suddenly, Last Summer/Willy Wonka connection?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2009 at 9:35 PM

In Ian Fleming's famed James Bond novel, Auric Goldfinger declares "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it's enemy action." When I attended Sunday's compelling, opening night production of Suddenly, Last Summer at Actor's Express, I had to figure out of the play's apparent connections to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were happenstance, or what.

I didn't go looking for Wonka-flavored footnotes in Suddenly, Last Summer by any means. During the Catharine Holly (Kate Donadio)'s big speech at the end, she describes sinister street urchins following her and ill-fated poet Sebastian on the streets of Cabeza de Lobo. On a make-shift musical instrument, the creepy little people play music like a tuba "Oompa, oompa, oompa." The "Oompas" recur until it's hard not to think of the chorus of the Oompah-Loompah songs in the 1971 film.

I would have made the association and promptly forgotten it, until I realized that earlier, the play had a line nearly identical to Willy Wonka. At one point "Dr. Sugar" (Joe Sykes) lights the cigarette for Mrs. Venable (Shannon Eubanks), who says, "So shines a good deed in a naughty world." In the movie, when Charlie Bucket gives the Everlasting Gobstopper back to Willy Wonka in his office, Gene Wilder murmurs, "So shines a good deed in a weary world," a line not in the book.

Could Roald Dahl, who wrote the original novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, and its screen adaptation in 1971, have been twice quoting from the Tennessee Williams 1958 play? Or was it a coincidence?

Likely answer: Coincidence!

After the show, I went home and Googled the line in its various permutations, and discovered that it actually dates back to Portia from The Merchant of Venice, who says "How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world." I will (grudgingly) concede that it's more likely that Tennessee Williams and Roald Dahl were separately quoting from Shakespeare, rather than Dahl quoting from Williams. The Merchant of Venice's themes of alienation and materialism resonates independently with Suddenly and Wonka more than the two works resonate with each other.

If only Dr. Sugar administered fizzy lifting drinks instead of truth serum, or wore a plum waistcoat and a top hat instead of a cream-colored suit, then I'd be onto something. If anyone else can support my theory, please let me know.

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