Coming of Age, Family Turmoil and Unrequited Desire: The Tennessee Williams Festival Explores the Playwright’s Impact

 In Culture, Event

Tennessee Williams famously hated his arguable hometown of St. Louis, where he was dragged against his will when his father got a job at the International Shoe Company when the future playwright was 8 (and again when he was 57, when his brother got him thrown into rehab at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.)

But his years in the city had an undeniable impact on his work, perhaps precisely because it was where the playwright most acutely experienced the kind of low-simmering family turmoil that would fuel his most memorable plays. And on May 9-19, the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis will explore that impact through a series of productions that highlight some of the best of Williams’ repertoire—and the most secretive corners of the American family experience.

Coming of Age, Family Turmoil and Unrequited Desire: The Tennessee Williams Festival Explores the Playwright's Impact

“Night of the Iguana” actors Nisi Sturgis and James Andrew Butz. Image courtesy of Peter Wochniak.

While the centerpiece production of the festival will be the full-length “Night of the Iguana”—Williams’ steamy and startling story of a group of people whose dark pasts and darker desires catch up with them in a run-down Mexican resort—perhaps the most buzzed-about event wasn’t written by Williams at all. For three shows only, “Mad Men”star Bryan Batt (whom you’ll remember as the closeted art director, Salvatore Romano) will perform the world premiere of his one man show, “Dear Mr. Williams,” which tells the story of Batt’s own coming of age in Williams’ adopted hometown of New Orleans by tracing out parallels between both the actor and the playwright’s trajectories through queer young adulthood and beyond.

And you won’t want to miss the festival’s one-act offering, either. “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur”—yes, that Creve Coeur—tells the story of Dorothea, an aging woman who longs to leap above her station (and out of her shoddy city apartment that she shares with a slovenly roommate) and transform herself into the society wife she knows she’s destined to be. The only problem is that the particular husband she imagines for herself—the principal of the school where she teaches civics—has just announced his engagement to another woman in the society papers.

Award-winning local actor and director Kari Ely directs this amusing yet cutting examination of class and gender, which couldn’t be more relevant in today’s political moment. It’s perhaps the single Williams work that’s most directly impacted by his time in the Gateway City.

Die-hard fans can supplement their theater-going experience with panel events that discuss the lasting legacy of the playwright’s work, bus tours of St. Louis-area landmarks that shaped his life and a tribute revue that invites local writers, musicians and theater luminaries to explore what Williams means to them. Tickets and more information are available on the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis website.

Featured image of the 2018 performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire” courtesy of Ride Hamilton.

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