St. Louis again celebrates its world-renowned Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright—Tennessee Williams—with the 2nd Annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, May 3 – 7, in venues across the Grand Center Theatre District.
“The magic of the other” is a thread through all of his hundreds of plays, poems, stories, and essays. “Some of us fear and reject strange people and ideas. Williams understood that by confronting and embracing the other, we can be elevated and mysteriously transformed. This is not just the magic of theater… it is the magic of the other,” explains TWFSTL Executive Artistic Director, Carrie Houk.
Highlights include the unacknowledged Williams masterpiece Small Craft Warnings, a breathtaking Spanish-language (with English supertitles) production of Deseo; and “The Playwright and the Painter,” an exhibition of acclaimed Tennessee Williams’ paintings on loan from Key West. There is something for everyone: plays, live music, movies, paintings, readings, panel discussions, and tours.
“We thrive on the vibrancy of Grand Center. Mary Strauss and Ken and Nancy Kranzberg have embraced us. We are thrilled to have been invited by the Kranzbergs to be an anchor arts organization at the .ZACK!” boasts Board President, Scott Intagliata. “We premiere Small Craft Warnings at the .ZACK theater and it will be our hub. Patrons can settle in to discuss the festival and enjoy a drink or a meal.”
All programming is within walking distance of the .ZACK. “Bertha in Paradise,” featuring St. Louis’s Grammy-winning Anita Jackson, kicks off the festival on Wednesday, May 3, at the Curtain Call Lounge. In a bluesy cabaret performance, Jackson conjures up a continuation of her hauntingly unforgettable character of last year’s “Hello from Bertha.” An opening night party follows.
The remarkable showcase, “Tennessee Williams: The Playwright and the Painter,” is a major coup for St. Louis. These 18 deeply personal paintings, only once before shown outside of Key West, illustrate how William’s magical poetry brilliantly suffuses every art form he undertakes. Exhibited at the St. Louis University Museum of Art, they are on loan from the Key West Art & Historical Society and the owner of the paintings, Williams’s longtime friend David Wolkowsky.
The marquee, must-see production of the festival is the little-known but critically heralded Williams play Small Craft Warnings. Richard Corley, one of America’s most praised Williams directors, directs a cast of St. Louis’s top performers. The cast is headlined by New York’s much-lauded Williams interpreter Jeremy Lawrence as Doc, a role Williams himself played in its original New York City run.
Deseo, the festival’s first-ever international entry, provides a thrilling re-interpretation of Williams’s most famous play from the perspective of the Cuban experience. It remains true to the essence of Williams, while freshly channeling the unfamiliar challenges faced by of immigrants and exiles. It is a co-production of Lilian Vega’s Miami-based El Ingenio and the world-renowned Teatro Beundia in Havana, guided by Raquel Carrio and Flora Lauten. In Spanish, with English supertitles, at the Marcelle.
The historic Stockton House, everyone’s favorite venue last year, returns as the stage for Will Mr. Merriweather Return from Memphis? Local favorite Jeff Awada directs the first professional production in fifty years of this intimate, funny, poignant play. The scarcest ticket in town last year was for the immersive St. Louis Rooming House Plays at the Stockton House, so theater-goers should get their tickets early and often.
The Tennessee Williams New Playwrights Initiative makes its debut this year. The winner is Jack Ciapciak’s Naming the Dog, also the recent winner of NYU’s Goldberg New Playwright Award. The play presents us with millennials who live near Ferguson, veering between attempts to cope with racial unrest and the apparently more consequential task of naming their new puppy. Ciapciak leads a Q&A after the staged reading at the Kranzberg Studio.
Tennessee Williams Tribute: Magic of the Other features scenes, songs, and poetry as interpreted by special guests including Ken Page, Lara Teeter, Elizabeth Teeter, Anita Jackson, Michael James Reed, Jeremy Lawrence, and a surprise vocalist from the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. This program will again be curated by Thomas Keith, editor of the continuing series of Williams’s newly collected works for the New Directions Press in New York.
The festival’s 17 distinct elements, receiving 39 performances, include many of last year’s favorites: educational panels, a bus tour of Williams locations, Beatnik Jam, films at the Nine Media Commons, a photo exhibit, and, of course, the crowd-pleasing Stella Shouting Contest (to win Stella beer!).
The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis looks forward to building on last year’s critical success and exceeding its 2016 attendance. “I’m gratified that Tennessee’s hometown is now embracing our greatest playwright,” says Houk. We look forward to continuing to offer theatrical, artistic, and educational programming to the community, and becoming a major destination event.”