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Discovering Tennessee Williams' Circle of Friends

Discovering Tennessee Williams' Circle of Friends

Illustration by David Chick

It’s time to venture back to Provincetown. No, there isn’t a surprise Bear Week II or a reprise of Girl Splash (yet). Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival kicked off their ninth season yesterday, with the theme Tennessee Williams’ Circle of Friends.

Producing Williams’ plays in a location where friendship is pivotal, the festival includes works by prominent lesbian and gay friends of Williams—such as Carson McCullers, Yukio Mishima, Jane Bowles, and William Inge—and it manages to dust off the American legend's reputation and exposes his convention-bending experimental genius.

In the 1940s, Williams visited Provincetown. With a borrowed typewriter he worked on The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. This summer, the festival is producing three lesser-known works and two dances inspired by a couple of one-act plays. Period of Adjustment tells the story of two Korean War buddies meeting up to spend a holiday together. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, the basis for TV’s The Golden Girls, sees a circle of women exploring their fluctuating roles and identities and attempting to shelter each other from love’s disillusionments. Vieux Carré follows a naïve, green writer as he befriends his solitary, domineering landlady. I Wish You’d Keep Still is a program of two dances inspired by 1935’s Why Do You Smoke So Much, Lily and 1951’s Unspoken.

In Nantucket during the summer of 1946, McCullers and Williams wrote at the same table. He was writing Summer and Smoke as she wrote the novel, Member of the Wedding. Boston’s New Urban Theatre Laboratory is producing her 1950 stage adaptation of the novel. The drama focuses on Frankie, a 12-year-old tomboy, who wishes to tagalong on her brother’s honeymoon.

Last summer, Act I of Bowles’ rarely performed In the Summer House was staged around the pool at the Boatslip. Its thrilling cliffhanger left audiences wondering if Mrs. Constable’s daughter slipped or if Mrs. Eastman’s daughter pushed her over the cliff to her death. This summer, for the first time ever, the play is being performed in its entirety; presented in and around Provincetown Bay, it stars festival favorites Irene Glezos, Brenda Currin, and Beth Bartley.

Williams and Mishima bonded over their mutual appreciations for the violence and beauty of Japan and the American South. For this year’s festival, the South African performers of Abrahamse & Meyer Productions will present Mishima’s The Lady Aoi. Putting a unique spin on this modernized retelling of a Noh play about a jealous ghost who transforms into a demon, the troupe is presenting the work as a puppet play.

 

A Hidden Splendor’s An Otherwise Hopeless Evening premiered at Jewel Box Lounge in Kansas City, MO. The critically lauded event presents audiences with four plays by Inge, whom Williams encouraged to become a playwright. Highlighting Inge’s conservative Midwestern upbringing impeding his acceptance of his sexuality, this “theatrical mash-up” offers stories of men trying to be themselves. It is directed by Travis Chamberlain, features drag queen De De Deville, an all-male cast, and is accompanied by Joseph Keehn II’s original art installation that explores Williams and Inge’s relationship.

Patrons of the festival can also catch Coffee with John Lahr, the author of the Williams biography Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh. He and his editor, Thomas Keith, will discuss Williams’ companionships with Hollywood movie stars, other writers, Tallulah Bankhead, and the personages that belonged to his circle of friends.

For more information, schedule, and tickets, please visit TWPtown.org.

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