Tenn Years : Tennessee Williams Onstage

The essays in this volume were all written by David Kaplan in conjunction with the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, of which he is the curator and a co-founder. They are organized in two sections. The first section consists of ten essays written for each year of the Provincetown Festival, most included in the Festival catalogue for the year indicated. Those essays focus on each year’s thematic selection of Williams plays—and other dance, music, and theater events—as well as some aspect of Williams’ plays not always obvious in the text but essential to understanding the plays in production. The second section includes seven occasional essays, written for productions of Williams plays associated with the Festival. All the essays relate, in one way or another, to the story of what happened to the playwright during the last twenty years of his life and how his reputation is evolving since his death.

“David Kaplan will take you deeper into how the plays of Tennessee Williams work—some you already know and some that will be new to you—and how they found their way off the page and on to the many stages of the Tennessee Williams Provincetown Theater Festival.”

Thomas Keith, Tennessee Williams editor and Literary Director for the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival




Ten Blocks on the Camino Real Accra, Ghana 2016 / US Tour 2017

Kilroy maintains his innocence in a grasping world, even after death.


Opened May 5, 2016 @ The market square of La, Accra.
Toured to other locations in Ghana.

September 2017 toured America with outdoor performances in
St. Louis, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival and in Worcester, Mass.

Ten Blocks on the Camino Real
was written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 with songs, dialogue, and dance to tell its story of how a boxer loses his “heart as big as the head of a baby.”  Beginning May 5, 2016, Abibigroma,  the National Theater of Ghana, staged the text by Tennessee Williams outdoors in public spaces.

Performances in Ghana retain the words of Williams’ text in English, yet are specific to Ghanian culture. The “player of the blue guitar” Williams describes is a drummer of blue drums.

Abibigromma, the National Theatre Company of Ghana, was established in 1983 at the University of Ghana, Legon. In 1991, the company became the resident troupe of the National Theatre. The focus of Abibigromma is to develop a rich blend of music, dance, mime, movement and dialogue with a strong social, spiritual and folkloric base.

The 2016 production of Ten Blocks is based on Kaplan’s 2012 production performed outdoors in Paysandu, Uruguay.  In Ghana, the role of Mr. Gutman, the feral hotel owner, was played by the American actor Greg McGoon, who created the teaser video. For the 2017 tour, Mawuli Semevo played Gutman.
As in Ghana, performances in America were outdoors, free to passersby.

Bertha in Paradise St. Louis 2017

Tennessee Williams was often asked  “After the onstage action of
“Streetcar Named Desire,” what would happen to Blanche?”  He had a
stock answer: she would start an affair with the asylum doctor, seduce
him into granting her an early release, and then set up a successful
hat shop in the French Quarter.

If you asked. “What  happens to the title character of Tennessee
Williams’ play “Hello fro Bertha” after she’s lying near death on her
sickbed?  Maybe Bertha doesn’t die, maybe she gets up from her pity
party, Feeling much better after all that crying,  she goes downstairs
to sing. Maybe the magic of the other isn’t the Paradise of Heaven,
but the Paradise she’s singing about: the Paradise of earthly

“Bertha in Paradise” is a saucy stew of bawdy songs that Anita Jackson (playing Bertha) greeted audiences with at “The Rooming-House Plays” for the 2016 TW Fest in St. Louis.  For the 2017 TW Fest in St. Louis, Anita returned as Bertha, crooning the blue-sy  “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl” slipping into the cult classic  “If It Don’t Fit Don’t Force It,” and sharing the sophisticated passion of ColePorter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” With Charles Creath on the keyboards Joel PE King as a handy stagehand, and Donna Weinsting reprising the role of Goldie singing “Would Anybody Here Want to Try My Cabbage?”

The St. Louis Rooming-House Plays (2016) St. Louis, Missouri 2016

Four short plays by Tennessee Williams performed with live music in a St. Louis mansion. Photos below by Ride Hamilton.

As refuge from the battle of life, in his plays Tennessee Williams offered men and women rented beds, often in the rooms of a  boarding-house.  Four short plays set by Williams in rented rooms in St. Louis,  performed in the rooms of the historic Stockton House in St. Louis, under the direction of David Kaplan with Brian Hohlfeld staging “The Pink Bedroom.”

Audiences move from room to room to witness an unlucky goodtime girl retain her pride in “Hello from Bertha,” enjoy a veteran shoe salesman restored to glory in “The Last of My Solid Gold Watches,” cheer as a fearless mistress asserts her power in “The Pink Bedroom,” laugh as a touring chorus girl, in the play titled “In Our Profession,” tries to settle down in Saint Louis – but with the wrong man.  Curling through the halls, the sound of the St. Louis blues.


Part of the first annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, May 11-15, 2016.


The Day on Which a Man Dies (2016) Provincetown, MA and Port Elizabeth, South Africa 2016

Tennessee Williams’ late 1950s text about an artist coming to the end of his images.

South Africa’s 2016 National Arts Festival presents Marcel Meyer as The OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMan, Jennifer Steyn as The Woman, directed by David Kaplan in the Abrahamse-Meyer Production of THE DAY ON WHICH A MAN DIES  from Cape Town, South Africa. Photos taken in performance by Ride Hamilton at the 10th Annual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Provincetown.

Tennessee’s letter to columnist Max Lerner during, and about, the
creation of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1959),  around the same time as DAY ON WHICH:


kjeYaYYI6beQnUjjMViUoXB5O5papyV8Xb4dk8vMDe8,0zO9NmHhBqlUFDwsPbBAzSyhux4uUN1ZTCgRAiOPuCg“ As an artist grows older he is almost always inclined to work in broader strokes. The delicate brush-work of his early canvasses no longer satisfies his demands of himself. He starts using the heavy brush, the scalpel and finally even
his fingers, his thumbs, and even, finally, a spray gun of primary colours. Act Two is written with that heavy brush, scalpel and spray-gun. Delicacy, allusiveness are thrown to the winds in writing, staging and performance.”





The Hotel Plays (2014 /2015) New Orleans 2014, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATennessee Williams set many of his plays in hotel rooms and boarding-houses: way stations between life and death, dream and reality.

As part of the 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival March 25th  through 29th the rooms of the historic Hermann-Grima House Museum at 820 St. Louis Street  echoed with performances of plays by Tennessee Williams written and set in the French Quarter.


Live music accompanied the 2015 New Orleans edition.

Kathryn Talbot at the Gallier House © Ride HamiltonA related installation, “Tennessee Williams Neighborhood – A French Quarter Perspective” at the Gallier House, 1132 Royal Street, provides background to the playwright’s life in the Quarter.

Photos by Ride Hamilton:  Desiree Ledet as Mrs. Wire in The Lady of Larkspur Lotion. Joel Derby as Bob Harper, George Sanchez as Mr. Charlie in The Last of My Solid Gold Watches.  Kathryn Talbot on the floor of the Gallier House. 

For more photographs

June Recital New York City 1979 to Jackson, Mississippi 2015

The words of Eudora Welty, the music of Beethoven
PO at the Flea

June Recital, Mr. Kaplan’s tribute to Mississippi author Eudora Welty was written with and has been performed by Brenda Currin since 1979. Critically acclaimed performances throughout the United States include extended runs in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. A compact disc recording was released in 2002 with live concert performances in 2003 throughout the state of Mississippi and at the International Eudora Welty Colloquium in Rennes, France.  The work adapts Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.” along with the novel “Losing Battles” and five other stories and names from Welty’s collected works set to Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, played live.

May 14. 2015, a once in a lifetime performance with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra  was performed by Brenda Currin and pianist Phillip Fortenberry in the Art Garden of the Mississippi Museum of Art.

A Fire Was in My Head is another Kaplan adaptation of Welty’s fiction for Brenda Currin and piano virtuoso Phil Fortenberry.

The Day on Which a Man Dies 6 FAQs

1) What is the provenance of the text?

In the UCLA library there is a folder, deposited in 1970, with unnumbered pages, marked in Tennessee Williams’ handwriting “The Day on Which a Man Dies, an Occidental Noh play dedicated to Yukio Mishima. Finished 1960.” The American scholar Allean Hale, her interest piqued by a throwaway comment Williams made in an interview that he had written a Noh play, tracked down the text and first wrote about it in 1991. A later version of the text — dated 1971 with significant differences — was circulated by Williams’ agents in the ’70s and performed in 2001 at the White Barn Theater in Connecticut. The 2007 Chicago production of The Day on Which a Man Dies is the world premiere of the original UCLA text, edited by Annette Saddik, which will be published by New Directions in the spring of 2008.

2)Is this a version of the 1968 play titled A Bar in a Tokyo Hotel ?Speculation that The Day on Which a Man Dies is an early draft of “Bar” or a re-write of “Bar” is not supported by either text, nor by drafts of either text. Confusion exists because the earlier “Day” text was unavailable for comparison. Though some of the “Day” roles — painter and lover — are reconfigured in “Bar” there is not one line of dialog in common and the action onstage is quite different. Most of “Day” takes place inside two adjoining hotel rooms in Tokyo. A small scene in “Day” presents the painter’s lover alone in a bar on the Ginza, pointedly not a hotel, and pointedly not in the company of anyone other than the audience. The biggest diffrence is that “Bar” is traditional fourth wall realism, “Day” is a Noh play.

3) What does it mean the play is subtitled “An Occidental Noh Play”
Noh theater is a 14th century Japanese theater form combining dance, music, story-telling and enactment. “Day” uses a similar combination onstage. If Western comedy intends to makes audiences laugh, and Western tragedy intends to make audiences cry, the intent of Noh is make audiences feel “yugen” – “still beauty.” Williams’ knowledge of Noh came from his friendship with Yukio Mishima, who wrote a series of Modern Noh Plays, five of them published in English in 1957. In 1958, Williams’ publisher, New Directions, published The Classic Noh Theatre of Japan by Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa. Williams probably read this — at least he follows the “Noh” spelling rather than “No.”

4) How is it that the text is dedicated to Yukio Mishima?
Mishima, the Japanese homoerotic post WWII novelist, was a personal friend of Williams. The two met casually on the street in Manhattan in 1957, then formally at the offices of New Directions two days later. Williams visited Japan as Mishima’s guest in 1959, then again in 1969. Mishima committed hara-kiri in 1970 at the age of 45.

5) What is the source of the theatrical imagery in the play?
Williams seems to have been aware of the Japanese art movement called Gutai. Crucial stage directions in The Day on Which a Man Diesappropriate aspects of Gutai performance art: in particular the death of the painter and the eccentric means by which paintings are created onstage. See below for still photographs and YouTube clips. The Gutai were inspired by Jackson Pollock, whose friendship with Williams dates to 1940 Provincetown.

6) Where is this text in the timeline of Williams’ work and life?
As The Day on Which a Man Dies was being written between 1957 and 1959, Williams was working on other plays — Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana (with which “Day” shares a speech), the comedyPeriod of Adjustment — and the films of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) andThe Fugitive Kind (1959). After the critically reviled experiments of Camino Real in 1953, the playwright had gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1956. In 1957 Williams was 46, and in the 11th year of his relationship with Frank Merlo. Jackson Pollack had died the year before. Significantly, Williams began to see a psychiatrist in 1957.

Tennessee Williams: Words and Music New Orleans, Provincetown, Columbus MS 2012, 2013

A compact disc recording of Alison Fraser’s sizzling performance.

In a play written by Tennessee Williams, music is the sound of paradise drifting in from around the corner, across the alley, from the room next door, the promise of love and happiness just out of reach, leading us on to believe in the  possibility of love and harmony somewhere, if not where we are, listening in circumstances far removed from love or happiness.

Alison Fraser begins her extraordinary voyage to paradise through Tennessee Williams: Words and Music led on by  extraordinary New Orleans musicians, the Gentlemen Callers, under the baton — alongside the hot piano chords — of orchestrator Allison Leyton-Brown (photograph below by Ride Hamilton)


“If I Didn’t Care” and the dozen tunes that follow were chosen by Tennessee Williams to be sung in his plays — Streetcar among others — as counterpoint to his dialogue. 2012 & 2013 live performances in New Orleans, Provincetown, and Columbus MS where Tennessee Williams was born.

Something lovely and mysterious, haunting one’s spirit just as Williams’ characters clutch at the solace that, like his distant melodies, so often eludes them.
New Orleans Times Picayune

Characters wanting to believe in a pretty world and their own reinvented pasts or projected futures dovetails nicely with songs that paint idealized portraits of romantic devotion and smooth-paved roads of life. Sweet, simple songs feel ironic or sadly empty, in danger of imploding along with dreams. The blues seem a deeper blue, although they’re sung lightly (there’s that irony again—and good ol’ subtext). With context and the uniquely heartbreaking Fraser voice, and these special atmosphere-drenched arrangements by pianist Allison Leyton-Brown for a great little band, this is a fascinating ride.
Talkin Broadway.com


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Tenn at One Hundred

american_typewriterTenn at One Hundred, edited by David Kaplan, is a comprehensive look at the reputation of America’s greatest playwright Tennessee Williams. Published on the occasion of Tennessee Williams’ centennial, Tenn at One Hundredcontains eighteen essays by authors including John Lahr, William Jay Smith, Sam Staggs, Amiri Baraka, John Patrick Shanley, Kenneth Holditch, Allean Hale and others. Collectively the essays explore Tennessee Williams and his legacy: the plays, the films, reviews, talent, tenacity, good forturne, bad timing, friends, addictions, critics, producers, publishers, directors, actors and biographers that helped to shape Tennessee Williams’ critical reputation and iconic status over the past seventy years.

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