TWStL 2023: “Tennessee Williams: A World of Light and Shadow”
Tennessee Williams St. Louis Expands to Year-Round Programming with 8th Annual Festival Returning September 7-17
“We lived in a world of light and shadow . . . But the shadow was almost
as luminous as the light.” Violet Venable, Suddenly Last Summer
“Fantastic to proceed back into light for our 8th Annual Tennessee Williams Festival (TWStL),” states Carrie Houk, TWStL Executive Artistic Director. “Although there certainly have been shadows in our midst the last few years, we have found that those shadows provided valuable challenges and gave us the ability to produce some of our brightest, most creative work.”
This year’s fall Festival will give center stage to Suddenly Last Summer, a drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Williams, directed by award-winning director, Tim Ocel at the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at Center of Creative Arts (COCA) on September 7-17.
“Suddenly, Last Summer – like A Streetcar Named Desire before it – is drenched in Southern Gothic humidity, sex, passion, and insanity. It threatens tyranny and lobotomy. It talks of God and man; is man’s selfish nature an imitation of a cruel God? Tennessee Williams’ poetic-prose is working at an extremely high level in this play, revealing tormented souls and aching hearts the way great music reveals the unspeakable.” – Tim Ocel, Director
This fresh retelling of Suddenly Last Summer, first performed in 1957, focuses on the life and death of closeted gay poet Sebastian Venable, who is brutally murdered while on a trip to Italy with his cousin Catharine. After the recent tragedy, Mrs. Venable will stop at nothing to keep her son’s (and her own) secrets safe. Generally accepted as a modern-day horror story, this play has autobiographical roots from Williams’ own family life.
Post-show commentary will be conducted by Thomas Mitchell, TWStL’s Festival Scholar, to encourage audiences to go beyond their first impressions of the performance and to engage in dialogue about the larger themes of the play. Mitchell will provide historical and cultural context and identify topics of humanistic concern that might be raised by Williams’ writing.
“University City Years” will be a focus for the fall Festival. In addition to the Williams family living in U. City from 1926-1937, “The University City community has welcomed us with open arms beginning with a valuable partnership with COCA and the beautiful Catherine Berges Theatre in addition to the full support of the University City mayor, Terry Crow, who will be hosting the reading of “Something Unspoken” in the grand entry of his magnificent home on Delmar,” explains Houk.
Originally performed as a curtain raiser for Suddenly Last Summer and billed as the “Garden District Plays,” Something Unspoken features Brenda Currin and Julie Layton, reprising their roles from the Classic 107.3 radio performance. The play will be performed site-specifically at the magnificent home of University City Mayor, Terry Crow, on Delmar prior to select Suddenly Last Summer performances at COCA.
The following panels which will further shed light upon the themes of the play and draw connections between Williams’ life in St. Louis and his artistry, will take place at COCA.
—The Civil Rights Era, Tennessee Williams and St. Louis – Discussion of significant events during the civil rights years of the 1950s and 1960s as they were felt in St. Louis and reflected in the work of Tennessee Williams.
—Tennessee’s “Madness” – expanding on the themes in Suddenly Last Summer, this discussion includes topics such as How was mental health understood at the time of the play and how did psychological challenges impact Williams’s life? How was “madness” used as a weapon against women, artists, and the LGBTQ community?
— University City as Inspiration to a Young Writer – The Williams Family moved to U-City when Tom was a teenager, beginning his writing “career.” This panel with consider the influence of the city’s colorful history, amazing architecture, and impressive education in the 1920s when Williams was a youth.
Other events include:
- Workshop Reading of The Vengeance of Nitocris
- Book Signing & Discussion of Tom Mitchell’s new publication of Williams’ short stories: Caterpillar Dogs: and Other Early Stories
- A Walking Tour of University City
- Late Night Beatnik Jam at Blueberry Hill
- TW Tribute featuring cast members & favorite STL actors
- Film screening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in collaboration with Cinema St. Louis
Before the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis (TWStL) returns this fall, the organization will kick off its eighth year with a reprise of their Something Spoken radio series late April and an intimate cabaret performance and fundraiser early summer.
“Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams on the Air” will air April 29, May 6, 13, 20 at 4:00 PM on Classic 107.3 (live and online). This installment will feature four one-act plays by Williams directed by Brian Hohlfeld & Tom Mitchell along with a commentary by TWStL scholar in residence Tom Mitchell following each episode. The episodes will reprise in the summer on August 5, 12, 19, 26.
On May 31, at 7:30pm, a fundraiser performance of The Brass Menagerie cabaret with Amy Jo Jackson – a campy romp through the women of Tennessee Williams…in SONG! will be presented at The Curtain Call Lounge in Grand Center. TWStL is delighted to bring “this beautifully realized piece of work” – winner of a 2022 Bistro Award – to St. Louis. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hear Blanche DuBois, Maggie the Cat or the Wingfields sing through their plays, wonder no longer – Amy Jo Jackson is here to bring all of the charm and vivacity, vivacity and charm that the South demands to these iconic women. An additional public performance will take place June 1st at 7:30pm.
Additional events and locations to be announced in the coming weeks. Festival event details can be found at twstl.org.
About the Festival
In 2014, award-winning producer, casting director, actor, and educator Carrie Houk produced Williams’ Stairs to the Roof with such success that the ongoing annual Festival was established.
The Festival, which aims to enrich the cultural life of St. Louis by producing an annual theater festival and other artistic events that celebrate the artistry and life of Tennessee Williams, was named the Arts Startup of the Year Award by the Arts and Education Council at the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards.
In its seven iterations since 2016, the Festival has attracted thousands to its readings, panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions, and productions, has reached hundreds of young people through it’s educational programming, and has garnered 13 awards from the St. Louis Theater Circle and was recently nominated for six St. Louis Theater Circle awards for 2022’s The Rose Tattoo.
About Tennessee Williams
Born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 in Mississippi, Williams moved to St. Louis at age seven, when his father was made an executive with the International Shoe Company (where the City Museum and the Last Hotel are now located). He lived here for more than two decades, attending Washington University, working at the International Shoe Company, and producing his first plays at local theaters. He credited his sometimes-difficult experiences in St. Louis for the deeply felt poetic essence that permeates his artistry. When asked later in life when he left St. Louis, he replied, “I never really left.” Most people are familiar with the famous works that have garnered multiple Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, and Academy Awards, such as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. He also wrote hundreds of additional plays, stories, essays, and poems, many of which are only now seeing the light of day as his estate permits greater access. He is today considered by many leading authorities to be one of America’s greatest playwrights.
Cover Photo: Brian Hohlfeld and Artistic Director Carrie Houk working on “Something Spoken,” four radio plays by Tennessee Williams
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.