In honor of Tennessee Williams’ 100th birthday, Aurora Theatre Company announced that it will continue its 19th season with the playwright’s haunting drama The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.
Artistic director Tom Ross will helm the play which features Beth Wilmurt, Charles Dean, Marcia Pizzo, and Thomas Gorrebeeck, along with Amy Crumpacker, Ryan Tasker, Leanne Borghesi, and Beth Deitchman.
Set shortly before World War I in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale is a story of irrepressible longing and rebellion. Known as “the nightingale of the Delta,” Alma Winemiller is a lonely, unconventional woman hemmed in by her stern, puritanical father and her unstable mother. Heading towards spinsterhood, with an artistic temperament that her father tries to suppress, Alma finds consolation in her music and in the secret lifelong love she has for the boy-next-door. But it turns out that neither time nor circumstance will allow the two to be together.
Filled with all of the majestic themes, oversized characters, and gentle poetry that earned Williams his exalted position in American theater, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale was written in 1951 and debuted on Broadway in 1976 after being fine-tuned by Williams for 25 years; more than just a revision of his 1948 play Summer and Smoke, it became a radically different work of art.
Of all the characters he created, Tennessee Williams declared himself closest to Alma Winemiller. In a 1973 Playboy interview, Williams was asked “With what characters of yours do you identify?” He replied, “Alma of Summer and Smoke is my favorite – because I came out so late and so did Alma, and she had the greatest struggle, you know? … Miss Alma grew in the shadow of the rectory and so did I. Her love was intense, but too late. Her man fell in love with someone else and Miss Alma turned into a life of profligacy.”
Playwright Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911; he changed his name to “Tennessee,” the state where his father was born, in 1939 when he moved to New Orleans. His first critical acclaim as a playwright came in 1944 when The Glass Menagerie opened in Chicago and went to Broadway; it won a Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and, as a film, the New York Film Critics’ Circle Award. At the height of his career in the late 1940s and 1950s, Williams worked with the premier artists of the time, most notably Elia Kazan, the director for stage and screen productions of Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and the stage productions of Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). Kazan also directed the film version of Williams’ Baby Doll (1956); like many of Williams’ works, it was simultaneously praised and denounced for addressing raw subject matter in a straightforward realistic way. A Streetcar Named Desire won a Pulitzer Prize and established Williams as a major American dramatist; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Williams his second Pulitzer Prize. While Summer and Smoke (1948) was not a huge success on Broadway, its Circle in the Square Theatre revival in 1952, starring Geraldine Page, is considered to have started the Off-Broadway theater movement.
The 1960s were difficult years for Williams, as he experienced some of his harshest treatment from the press; it was during this time that he penned Night of the Iguana (1961) and The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963). At his best, Tennessee Williams is a haunting, lyrical, and powerful voice, and one of the most important forces in 20th century American drama. Additional works for the stage include: American Blues (1939); The Rose Tattoo (1951); Orpheus Descending (Battle of Angels, 1957); Suddenly Last Summer (1958); The Seven Descents of Myrtle (Kingdom of Earth, 1968); In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969); Dragon Country (1970); Out Cry (1971); Small Craft Warnings (1972); The Two Character Play (1973); and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980). Williams died in 1983; his body was found in a New York City hotel filled with half-finished bottles of wine and pills.
The Eccentricities of a Nightingale
Previews: April 1, 2, 6 at 8pm; April 3 at 2pm; April 5 at 7pm
Opens: April 7, 2011
Closes: May 8
Script Club: Monday, April 25 – Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams
Friday Forum: Friday, April 22 – Desiring to Blend Body and Soul
Role Play Night: Friday, May 6 – Masking the Heart with Characters
Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm and 7pm
Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA
For tickets (Students $10-15; Previews $34; Regular Performances $34-45; Limited Opening Night Seating $55) the public can call (510) 843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Half-off tickets for Under 30 and group discounts available.
Source: Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley, California
Photo Credit: David Allen