Celebrating the work of one of the 20th century's premiere playwrights is happening for the 17th year in Provincetown, with a Sept. 22-25 festival focused on the work of past visitor Tennessee Williams. But the shows are all being presented in unexpected ways — think disco, puppets and more. See the full story below on the 2022 Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival.
For other theater happening on Cape Cod stages, check out what our reviewers have to say about “The Sunshine Boys” produced by Eventide Theatre Company in Dennis at https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/entertainment and, once new shows open this weekend, more reviews posted there, too.
Here's more to look forward to:
What’s new (and some of it’s spooky)
► Cotuit Center for the Arts will present Frederick Knott’s thriller “Wait Until Dark” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 22-Oct. 9, at its intimate Vivian and Morton Sigel Black Box Theater (4404 Falmouth Road, Route 28). The play, directed by Erin Trainor, is about a blind woman who is left alone in her apartment and has to fend for herself as she tries to outwit a group of con men hatching an elaborate scam. Tickets ($25, with a $5 member discount) and information: https://artsonthecape.org/ or 508-428-0669, ext. 0.
► Chatham Drama Guild will stage the world premiere of local writer Bragan Thomas’ “Dracula,” adapted from the Bram Stoker novel and short story “Dracula’s Guest.” Thomas, who says it took eight years and 54 drafts to complete the adaptation, will also star as the title character. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22-23, 29-30, Oct. 1, 6, 13-14 and 4:30 p.m. Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, 9 and 16 at the guild theater, 134 Crowell Road. Tickets, $22, $25 for cabaret seating: 508-945-0510.
► Heritage Theatre of Provincetown will give a live staged reading of a world premiere adaptation of Neith Boyce’s “The Sea Lady,” a play about the mermaid myth that was based on an H.G. Wells novel but abandoned just before Broadway in 1935. The free show at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 will be held at Provincetown Commons, 45 Bradford St. A Q&A will follow with artistic director Stuard M. Derrick and Boyce biographer Carol DeBoer-Langworthy. A full production will follow in October in New York City. Information: 508-246-3875.
► Mauricio Martinez, Mexican Emmy Award-winning actor and recording artist who made his American crossover on Broadway starring in “On Your Feet! The Story Of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” makes his Provincetown debut in the “Broadway @ the Art House” series at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, with Brian Nash at the piano. Besides his work in his native Mexico, Martinez starred in the two seasons of NBC Universo’s Emmy-winning TV series “El Vato” on Netflix and will soon be featured in Peacock’s “Armas De Mujer.” Tickets and information: https://provincetownarthouse.com/.
It’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ for Tennessee Williams
Spotlighting the work of just one legendary writer — but in unexpected and unusual ways — is how the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival is returning at a time that curator David Kaplan calls “post-COVID, kind of, sort of.”
A satire about children taking care of their senior parents told with live actors, Chinese shadow puppets and typical rod puppets. A drama set in a 1970s disco club. A burlesque striptease to get character Blanche Dubois out of a straitjacket. Those are just a few ways fans can enjoy the all-Williams lineup when the festival is back Sept. 22-25 in more typical indoor theaters that include Provincetown Town Hall, Fishermen Hall and the Crown & Anchor resort.
“I have an open-minded, adventurous audience,” Kaplan says. “We’re lucky that our audience has a taste for this stuff. … The audience is what makes (these shows) possible.”
The Thursday through Sunday event is the first time since the inaugural year of 2006 that the festival will be fully devoted to the work of Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who created parts of some of his most famous plays in Provincetown. Past festivals have linked his work to Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill, topics of censorship and more, but this year’s lineup is designed to show the breadth of Williams’ work from the 1930s to the 1980s.
After making so many other connections, and after pandemic disruptions, it was time to “get back on brand,” Kaplan says, as well as celebrate and remind people about the importance of live theater to tell stories.
While straight, representational interpretations of plays rich in language aren’t likely the best choice for audiences used to today's quick-editing techniques in media, Kaplan says, using unexpected styles of theaters to convey Williams' words and messages is a way to celebrate live theater’s possibilities, too.
“We wanted to remind people of Williams’ writing over this period of time … and to remind our core audience of the substance and of the breath of work and the question of ‘In what way does this relate to right now?’" he says. “The answer is (Williams) wrote from the ‘30s until the ‘80s and this is something of a lesson of perseverance and of endurance and of faith in the art form, and that’s something, especially for theater audiences, that people need the opportunity to celebrate.”
There were several reasons for the 2022 festival theme of “Tutti Frutti,” according to the festival program, including the literal "all fruits" translation related to the breadth of the playwright's work. His writing continues to challenge audiences "to savor, as Williams put it in his own sweet words, ‘the strange, the crazed, the queer,’” it says.
In addition, Kaplan says, the “Tutti Frutti” theme was meant to be “refreshing and cheerful” with “life-affirming” plays that include “the humor of understanding that the human spirit exists in funny and comical and thwarted ways.”
This year’s festival will feature artists from South Africa, New Orleans, London, New York City and Cyprus, plus two extra performance choices, educational programming and parties. Many of the artists are returning, with new works and fresh ideas.
► South Africa’s Abrahamse and Meyer Productions will return for a sixth festival, this time bringing what’s described as “a radical, revisionist interpretation” to the 1940s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic “A Streetcar Named Desire,” about fragile former aristocrat Blanche DuBois trapped by ending up destitute, and living with sister Stella and her rough husband Stanley in New Orleans.
► Abrahamse and Meyer will also produce a two-actor stage version of Williams’ 1942 short story “One Arm,” about an aspiring boxer who loses his arm in a car accident and turns to prostitution for a living. The festival calls this play about a convicted hustler and a young Lutheran Minister who visits him on death row “a graphic account of the homosexual underworld during the 1940s while at the same time, being one of Williams’ most poignant portraits of a mutilated body and soul.”
► A New Orleans-based ensemble directed by Dennis Monn will present “Vieux Carré,” a 1977 play based on Williams’ memories and writings of New Orleans from his time there decades before. This production will be set in a ‘70s disco, and the story involves a young writer coming to terms with sexual identity, and what’s described as “a doomed young straight couple” dealing with passion and mortality.
► “The Magic Tower” is a 1930s “dream of a happy marriage” in which a vaudeville entertainer content with her husband is tempted to return to her performing life. This production comes from the Republic of Cyprus, and will be performed in English by a Cypriote ensemble and directed by former festival performer Marios Mettis. The entertainer will be changed to a former tambourine-shaker in a Cypriot taverna.
► 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is about a family gathering for Big Daddy’s last birthday, with troubled son Brick and wife Maggie trying to hold on to the man she loves. This version will use what’s described as an “unconventional pre-Broadway draft,” with co-directors Mitchell Polonsky and Chloe Claudel working with the international company The Goat Exchange to tell the story with six actors and an internationally known violinist.
► “This is the Peaceable Kingdom,” or “Good Luck God" is a 1981 caricature of enlightenment that involves children taking care of their senior parents in a nursing home. This production will be staged with live actors, Chinese shadow puppets and other puppets by New Orleans Mudlark Public Theatre, directed by Pandora Gastelum.
► Additional shows (dubbed “lagniappe” for the term for a New Orleans tradition of hospitality) will be “Amy Jo Jackson’s Brass Menagerie,” a campy collection of Broadway show-stoppers performed as if sung by the heroines of Tennessee Williams’ plays; and “Bananas Burlesque,” a song, dance and strip show by Lefty Lucy based on the plays being presented at the festival.
The burlesque is where the straitjacket striptease will come in, exemplifying the sense of freedom after some pandemic restrictions and the sense of cheerfulness and affirmation of life that festival officials wanted to project with this year’s show choices.
“Because nothing says freedom more than Blanche getting out of her straitjacket and swinging it over her head to music,” Kaplan says with a laugh. “I don’t think anyone who sees it is ever going to forget it! But I’m looking forward to a lot of memorable images this year.”
To see the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival
When: Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 22-25
Where: Various venues in Provincetown
Passes, individual tickets and information: twptown.org and 866-789-TENN (8366)
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod theater: Tennessee Williams, Dracula, Martinez, mermaids