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Drama Queen 

A festival of one-acts pays tribute to perhaps America's greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams

Wednesday, Mar 27 2002
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The late Tennessee Williams, arguably the greatest American playwright and the author of such classics as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, once stated that his goal was to air out the "closets, attics, and basements of human behavior." Though initially criticized for his relentless exploration of private matters that most people would prefer remain hidden, the controversial dramatist left a legacy that can't be denied, remaining prolific (if not always successful) until his death in 1983. Several local productions pay tribute to the man. A.C.T. stages its first-ever production of The Glass Menagerie, Williams' autobiographical portrait of family dysfunction. The Eastenders Repertory Company has long had an affinity for the playwright: Founder and Artistic Director Charles E. Polly staged the Bay Area debut of Williams' Something Cloudy, Something Clear, as well as a semi-autobiographical play cycle based on his own life as a Southern gay playwright. The troupe continues its tribute by devoting its annual fall festival of one-acts to Williams' short plays and by producing Tenn in 2002!, a presentation of The Long Goodbye and Hello's the Word, a collection of original short works written in response to Goodbye.

Williams' contributions to the stage -- and even to our daily vocabulary -- can't be emphasized enough. His penchant for airing the dirty laundry of the human condition "brought American drama to maturity," as theater critic Richard Gilman put it in The New York Times. His desperate, marginalized characters revealed the darker side of society, and his poetic imagery and lush language have resulted in some of American theater's most unforgettable characters and lines. His Southern belle-turned-nymphomaniac, Blanche DuBois of Streetcar, immortalized the line, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and the many pop-culture references to Stanley Kowalski's "Stella? Stella!" bolster the play's fame.

Tenn in 2002! begins with The Long Goodbye, Williams' 1940 tale about a writer who must confront disturbing memories of his mother and sister to come to terms with his past. Generally understood as the forerunner to Menagerie -- their common themes include memory, moving on, and forgiveness -- Goodbye reveals how Williams first explored his dramatic voice. Of the 30-plus one-acts Williams penned during his career, it's the one most aspiring writers study, based on its clear dramatic structure and universal topics. Participants in Eastenders' new writers' workshop gathered over a period of eight weeks to analyze the play in detail, the result of which is Hello's the Word, presented as the second act of the evening. Its fresh, stimulating take on the original is a testament to Williams' enduring power.

About The Author

Lisa Hom

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