Summer and Smoke
Act One: A Summer
The play opens at a park in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, around the turn of the 20th Century. The centerpiece of the park is the statue of an angel, called “Eternity” in faded letters at her base.
Ten year-old Alma Winemiller enters to have a drink from the fountain; she is followed shortly by her neighbor and classmate, John Buchanan, Jr. Alma, the preacher’s daughter, is already considered odd by her peers: she has an air of piety and naiveté about her. John, the doctor’s son, couldn’t be more her opposite. Called a “devil” by his own father, he is a misbehaving, popular prankster. He shoots Alma with a peashooter, in response to an earlier embarrassment: Alma left a box of handkerchiefs on John’s desk for him. Moreover, he says, she never stops staring at him. When pressed for her reasons, she explains that she thinks he would be handsome if he just cleaned his face. After sharing a moment in which John confides in her about his mother’s death, he wipes his face with one of her handkerchiefs, then kisses her. However, he finishes the kiss by stealing Alma’s hair-ribbon, and runs off laughing to join his friends, leaving her hurt and confused.
It is the 4th of July. Celebrations are taking place in the same park as the previous scene, but some years later. Alma and John are now in their mid-20s. Alma performs a song for the celebration. As she has grown older, her eccentricities have grown with her. She has a peculiar, reflexive laugh, and is seen as “putting on airs” by the townspeople, due to the heightened manner of her speech and behavior. She is both childish and world weary, having taken on many responsibilities at a young age. She spends her days teaching voice lessons, and helping her father care for the rectory and her mentally ill mother.
John has grown up to be a doctor, although he does not share his father’s dedication to the profession. He is a gambler, drinker, and womanizer, often disappearing for days at a time to pursue his