Fuse Theater Review: The Tennessee Williams Theater Festival Turns a Healthy Six

The quality varies at the TWTF, but here is a chance to become aware of rarely done Williams plays. And if a production does not measure up to one’s expectations, the effort will inspire a few sturdy directors to try their own hand at these and other texts of America’s most eloquent poet-playwright.

Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Provincetown, MA, (closed)

By Joann Green Breuer.

Curator David Kaplan — he selected an adventurous line-up of plays for the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

This is the sixth season of the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts, this year playing its part in the celebration of the 100th birthday of its namesake playwright. Curator David Kaplan selected eleven events which were performed over four days in theaters, inns, and tents through the town, and on one beach. The drama series included three below that I saw, and six, regretfully, I was unable to see. I am impressed by Kaplan’s choices: Orpheus Descending, Something Cloudy, Something Clear, The Parade, Now The Cats With Jewelled Claws, Alma, and South Pathetic. One ‘star,’ Michael Urie, is a public draw.

I was able to book Albuquerque’s Fusion Theatre Company’s production of Williams’s hotel plays, which were performed in the rooms of a bed and breakfast. The casts, costumed and nude, of Once in a Lifetime, The Traveling Companion, Green Eyes, and Sunburst were often a bit amateurish but generally uninhibited and sincere, while the stagings displayed some surprisingly intelligent, if limited, dexterity. The performers scrambled around the crowded floor and climbed on the furniture, while audience members sat or leaned against a wall. The one misguided production was Green Eyes, which turned continually away from sardonic seduction to embrace insistent conflict. One old-fashioned delight was Beverly Bentley, as the wealthy dowager of Sunburst. Her pancake makeup, broad gestures, and hesitant line readings gave advanced age a determined dignity. You had to root for her, as, luckily, does Williams.

Lee Breuer, co-artistic director of Mabou Mines, showcased his Williams adaptation GLASS GUIGNOL. Photo: Tom LeGoff

Even if you are one of the very few theater aficionados who are not devotees of Mabou Mines’s co-founding artistic director Lee Breuer, there is a reason to see his latest work in development—actress Maude Mitchell. She brings deft distinction to each of the characters in Breuer’s Tennessee Williams adaptation Glass Guignol. Her brazen, blonde buzzcut is striking, and she lands balletic moves so clean and so natural that one cannot, as Yeats says, distinguish the dancer from the dance. The theater piece is a mélange of a workshop loosely carved around The Two-Character Play. Clare, Laura, Amanda, Nance, Catherine appear under wigs of many colors as Mitchell slips in and out of character, in and out of precarious situations, and into our imagination.

Breuer has constructed a makeshift set of sheets and ladder, piano, workbench, and chairs, and supplemented it with three live musicians, a computer-generated soundscape, and amplified voices of the performers. The juxtaposition of an in-the-rough rehearsal-ish presentation (in which actors calling for lines) with timed technological accouterments is sometimes jarring but ever promising. This is deconstruction exposed and extolled. It may take a bit of foreknowledge of Williams’s works to follow the character changes and turns of plot, but I suspect that even if one does not know quite what is going on, let alone why, it is always fascinating. Breuer is hoping to bring the work, under continuing development, to stages around the country and the world. One can only hope so.

Tennessee Williams — America's poet-playwright turns 100 in style.

Glass Guignol was preceded by a narrated slide presentation of Breuer’s magical, magnificent envisioning of A Streetcar Named Desire, produced at the Comedie Francaise. One can only wish one had been there.

The Breuer talk was presented in the auditorium of the Town Hall. I saw the unedited text of The Two-Character Play presented in an actual theater. This performance, by two actors from the Jermyn Theatre of London, was an example of Kaplan’s ambitious reach for international productions but it, was, unfortunately, a long trip for a lesser duo. The pair ranted and rambled and made the Breuer jigsaw puzzle feel clear in comparison. In fairness, I must admit that the audience gave the Londoners a few hearty guffaws during the performance and a standing O following.

The enthusiasm of this and, I gather, each audience is matched by the high spirit of teams of volunteers, shop owners, residents, and tourists, giving the sense that the entire town is applauding. The festival atmosphere is energetic and contagious. Certainly quality varies, but here is a chance to become aware of rarely done plays. And if a production does not measure up to ones expectations, to inspire a few sturdy directors to try their own hand at these and other texts of America’s most eloquent poet-playwright.

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