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TWF14: What The Professor Said March 22, 2014

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Tennessee Williams Festival, Toulouse Street.
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Dr. Kenneth Holditch’s opening remarks at A Little Piece of Eternity Dropped Into Your Hands: “New Orleans was created by writers and visual artists, and that’s kept a lot of New Orleans alive…it was a totally different city from anything I had ever imagined. I don’t want to be the voice of doom but you better look quick because there are forces that want to change it into Columbus, Ohio…Sherwood Anderson said New Orleans was the city of imagination. Other cities may be cities of the intellect but this is the city of the imagination. I think that had a tremendous effect on Tennessee Williams.”

A friend of Williams (name unintelligible on my recording) recounted how “[Tennesseee] recalled when he came to New Oreans, when he was headed south on the bus,  he did not expect too much from the destination other than ‘salvation from the furies that had been unleashed by fate on [his] mortal self’.”

Tennessee wrote in his journal a few days after he arrived here in 1938 “here surely is the place that I was made for of any place on this funny old world.”

Tennessee’s First Flower Blooms at the Allways Lounge Theater March 23, 2013

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Review, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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While the smart set at the the Tennessee Williams Festival is settling into watch the third part of John Biguenet’s Katrina Trilogy, Mold in a small bar room/theater Off-Off-Royal Street Tennessee Williams’ first produced play–A Battle of Angels–is given a compelling production at the Allways Lounge Theater. The Allways has become the Southern Rep of the St. Claude and Bywater set, and director Glenn Meche’s production keeps up the high standards the theater has set for its small space. The tale which most of the world knows from its much re-written version as Orpheus Descending and the film The Fugitive Kind is still riveting theater in the Circle Repertory revival version presented by the Allways.

From the moment the excellent Nicole Gruter as Beulah Cartwright and Lillian Claire Dodenhoff as Dolly Bland burst gossiping into the mercantile store the audience is swept back in time and up to the Mississippi Delta. A more perfect pair of haughty southern matrons could hardly be wished for. As soon as Diana Shortez sweeps into the room as the flawed and fallen Cassandra Whiteside the hammer is cocked and ready for the volley of familiar Williams themes of sex, death and redemption to follow. Shortez, with her commanding physicality and chameleon abilities is perfectly cast as the the loose-moralled scapegoat and by the last act the play’s one-woman chorus.

At the end of the first act one wishes Eli Grove as snake-skinned Val Xavier had some of the animal magnetism of Shortez, but he brings his best duck-tailed Cool Hand Luke to the table and as the complexities of his character are revealed through the remainder of the play he wins the viewer over with a brooding Kerouacian charm. The strong cast of women delivers the reflection of the character’s reptilian charm in their own performances. He is convincing as the (one part Tennessee) thoughtful drifter with a head full of ideas running from a troubled past. The delight of the night is Veronica Russell as Myra Torrance. Her slow transformation from a bitter shopkeeper with a loveless marriage and a dying husband as reptilian as Xavier’s jacket into the lovelorn victim of Xavier’s charm is at the center of the plot and she carries the spotlight with a quiet but powerful performance. Years seem to melt from her face as she moves backwards in time from pinch-faced shopkeeper to the charmingly coquettish victim of Xavier’s promise of escape.

Rebecca Myers as the deeply religious Vee Talbot wears the character’s convictions well and does a fine job of carrying the difficult task of tying together the almost Old Testament bombastic imagery–from Xavier’s snakeskin jacket to the frightening cane-of-God Doug Mundy wields mostly off-stage–in this tale of temptation and fall set at Easter Week with the wild Whiteside making whoopee up at the town’s Golgotha. The text is freighted with symbolism almost past the Plimsoll mark but Myers and the rest of the supporting cast manage to keep the bowl of apples off the table and give Russell and Grove the space to play out their doomed romance. There is not a weak performance in the ensemble which also includes Barry Bradford as a genuinely threatening Sheriff Talbott and Patrica Raw and Rebecca Rae as the comic spinster sisters. Director Glenn Meche has shaped a fine cast into a compelling night of drama.

The Allways’ small proscenium theater is turned sideways as it was for last year’s The Future is a Fancy Land Place and while you might find yourself rubbing your neck at the end of the night, it gives the actors room to move and the feeling the audience is in a much larger space without the loss of intimacy. While far from the center of the Tennessee Williams weekend at the The Hotel Monteleone, festival goers would do well to find their way down to St. Claude Avenue and the rest of us have until April 6 to see the root of Tennessee’s genius in its first blossom.