Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival 2021 online
The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival was, understandably and not surprisingly, online this year. While it was not the same as past festivals where one rushed from one event to another and enjoyed the experience of seeing celebrities and plays live, it was a laudable attempt to keep the festival going in these challenging times.
Events included presentations via Zoom, Vimeo, livestream and other such techie things that defy easy description. I caught a number of them and (full disclosure) participated in one.
José Torres-Tama & ArteFuturo Productions presented Teatro Sin Fronteras/Theater without Borders which Torres-Tama described as the “most Latinx gathering in Tennessee Williams Festival history”, a smorgasbord of poets, musicians and actors.
Unfortunately, I had WiFi difficulties when Linett Luna Tovar, a poet who works with young immigrants; poet Melinda Palacio; and dancer/activist Maritza Mercado-Narcisse performed, but Torres-Tama is to be commended for, in his words, “wanting to highlight Latin women and their poetry.”
My computer kindly cooperated in time for me to enjoy José Fermin Ceballos’ empathetic singing; Torres-Tama’s moving stream of consciousness/hallucinatory poetry indicting Confederate flag-waving hypocritical religious zealots; and A Scribe Called Quess?’s incisive poetry.
Jennifer Pagan, a marvelous theater artist, opened her segment by mentioning that Williams’ The Rose Tattoo premiered in Chicago on her birthday, December 29, and that her grandmother was from Honduras but “insisted that she was from Spain.” She then went into a section from her one-woman show, offering with great expressivity memories about her first communion, her abuelita (grandmother) taking her dancing in the French Quarter and, later, post-Katrina, tenderly wanting to save her abuelita’s shoes.
Teatro Sin Fronteras concluded with vocalist Margie Perez recounting Williams’ only visit to Cuba in 1960 when he lunched with Ernest Hemingway and George Plimpton and, afterwards, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist declared Williams a “goddamn good playwright.” Perez then transported us to Havana by singing, wonderfully, songs that auspicious trio might have heard there then.
This year’s annual Tennessee Williams Tribute Reading focused on the French Quarter where Williams lived in several spots and which he called his “spiritual home”. Titled The Place That I Was Made For, the program was hosted by actress Brenda Currin and featured Alan Cumming, Lawrence Henry Gobble, Rodney Hicks, Ann Magnuson, and Amy Ryan, among others.
The two highlights, both recreations of their acclaimed stage performances, were Mink Stole as Trinket in The Mutilated, and Blair Underwood as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, both excellent as they intimately drew us into their monologues.
Moderated by Tommye Myrick, Sowing the Seed, Reaping the Harvest: The Evolution and Necessity of Black Theater in America provided insightful commentary by Kalamu Ya Salaam, Lauren E. Turner, Karen Kaia Livers and Nick Slie about the history and challenges of Black Theater in general and particularly in New Orleans. Though there was stimulating conversation as to what exactly “Black Theater” is, all the panelists agreed that it deserved and needed more funding in order for it to flourish in the ways that it aspires to.
As for me, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Cameron (Hedwig and the Angry) Mitchell about an off-Broadway production of Williams’ Kingdom of Earth (aka The Seven Descents of Myrtle) he directed in 1996 starring Cynthia Nixon and Peter Sarsgaard. Filmed at the Beauregard-Keyes House, it was an absolutely lovely experience which can still be viewed online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CZUNw90wZw). The only thing better would have been if we had had a live audience.
Let’s hope by next year, the entire Festival will be “Live and In Person” again. That’s something we can all desire!
While, sadly, live theater in Orleans Parish is, for the most part, not likely to return till the fall, for the next few weeks, there will be plentiful offerings in the surrounding area.
Jefferson Performing Arts Society presents A Comedy of Tenors, a comedic romp involving mistaken identities and laughable misunderstandings as a group of egomaniacal opera stars get ready to stage a major concert. Written by Ken (Lend Me a Tenor) Ludwig, and directed by native New Orleanian and veteran Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Laciura, this show promises to have you Lohengrinning from ear to ear!
A Comedy of Tenors plays April 9-18, Fridays/Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm, at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center, 6400 Airline Drive in Metairie. More info and tickets at https://www.jpas.org/performance/a-comedy-of-tenors/
30 by Ninety Theatre in Mandeville promises that their Pride and Prejudice “isn’t your grandmother’s Austen!” Adapted by Kate Hamill from the novel, this version of P&P explores the absurdities and thrills of finding your perfect (or imperfect) match in life in a “bold, surprising, boisterous, and timely” way.
Directed by Courtney Lee, all performances at 30×90’s theater at 880 Lafayette Street have sold out but another one has been added on Saturday, April 17, at 2:30. If you don’t want to miss out, quickly go to https://ci.ovationtix.com/35711/production/1038717
In Ponchatoula, Swamplight Theatre (950 Southwest Railroad Ave.) is doing 13 The Musical, which asks the question “After moving from big-city New York to podunk Appleton, Indiana, if Evan Goldman can’t get the coolest kids to come to his bar mitzvah, how is he going to survive the school year, not to mention, the rest of his life?”
Performances are Fridays-Sundays, April 16-May 2, with more info and tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/13-the-musical-tickets-141350163143 It’s an easy drive from New Orleans and a visit to Roux & Brew Seafood and Steak House, down the block from the theater, is worth the trip alone!
Slidell Little Theatre (2024 Nellie Dr.)presents the Tony Award-winning Once on This Island by Lynn Ahrens (book & lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), based on the 1985 novel My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl. It’s set in the French Antilles in the Caribbean Sea and concerns a peasant girl who uses the power of love to bring people together.
Directed by Jennifer Baptiste, Once on This Island plays April 16–May 2, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets and more info at www.SlidellLittleTheatre.org
Playmakers Theater’s next production is the French farce In One Bed … and Out The Other in which a bored married couple’s Parisian apartment becomes the playground for would-be and ex- lovers, including an uptight maiden aunt.
Directed by Arden Allen Dufilho, who was magnificent in Playmakers’ recent Glass Menagerie, In One Bed runs April 17-May 2 at 19106 Playmakers Road in Covington. For details and tickets, go to https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/tickets
And if you’d prefer just to stay home, on April 19 Crescent City Stage will be doing a virtual reading of Lee Blessing’s Fortinbras that attempts to answer the question, “What happens after Hamlet ends?”
This benefit features a cast assembled from coast to coast, with all donations going towards Crescent City Stage’s inaugural season coming, hopefully, later in 2021. To RSVP and receive a link to the reading, go to https://www.crescentcitystage.com/