Ah, Wilderness ! Samara, Russia 2005

Eugene O’Neill’s story re-located to a family of Russian emigres in Brooklyn.

Ah, Wilderness ! in Samara, Russia
Written in 1932, set in 1906 by O’Neill, set in its Russian production in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. The play was performed in Russian and English: the emigre adults spoke Russian, their American-born children spoke English.

The middle son is, as in the original text, in love with poetry and love itself.
Ah, Wilderness! kiss
Ah, Wilderness ! is O’Neill’s only comedy. In Russia his work has been known since the 30’s.  The production was dedicated to the memory of Lyuba Nikolayevana Filimonovna.

A Fire Was in My Head New York, New Orleans 2005

Eudora Welty’s story “Music from Spain” set to music inspired by Andres Segovia.

Performed by actress Brenda Currin and pianist Philip Fortenberry, A Fire Was in My Head invites short haunting compositions by Mompou and Bach, and Spanish classics, such as the well-known Leyenda by Albeniz and the passionate Orientale by Enrique Granados, to share the stage with the 1947 novelty song “Open the Door, Richard” and a Mississippi blues treatment a la Blind Boy Fuller of “Rocks in My Bed Number Two.” Below, set to Bach.

The adaptation by David Kaplan was commissioned by the Eudora Welty Society and the Faulkner Society. It was shown as a work-in-progress at the American Literature Association Conference in San Francisco and at the Appalachian Arts Festival in Boone, North Carolina. In April 2005 A Fire Was in My Head received definitive performances at historic Kaufman Hall at the 92nd St Y in New York City followed later that week with a performance at Tulane’s Deep South Humanities Center in New Orleans. It has since performed in Atlanta, Las Vegas, College Station, and Venice, Italy.

The photos here are captured from the DVD archival recording made at the 92nd St Y.


The Chalky White Substance : Tennessee Suite Provincetown, New Orleans, Sewanee, Dublin Ireland 2007-2014

Two short plays by Tennessee Williams pair autobiography & science-fiction.

Tennessee Suite begins with The Traveling Companion, a late self-portrait by Tennessee Williams in which a famous author (Vieux) checks into a Manhattan hotel room with only one bed accompanied by a much younger man (Beau) who may or may not be hustling.  [Photo above by Ride Hamilton. Jeremy Lawrence as Vieux at the Herman-Grima House in New Orleans, 2014]. The Chalky White Substance follows: Williams’ fantasia of trust and betrayal in which an older man (Mark) and younger (Luke), both hooded, scheme for survival in a landscape devastated by nuclear war. Photo below by Earl Perry. Jeremy Lawrence and Ben Berry in The Chalky White Substance at the 2007 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival.

The Dog Enchanted by the Divine View Boston, Provincetown 2008 Columbus MS 2009

Tennessee Williams’ first version of The Rose Tattoo

Dog Enchanted Sophia Piel
Tennessee Williams worked up his full-length plays by writing short versions first. His ease and excellence at devising one-acts was such he wrote over seventy of them — and we discover more every year. Some of these short plays resemble painter’s sketches intended as preparation for a larger canvas. Some sketches are rough, some are finished works in themselves.

The Dog Enchanted by the Divine View was discovered at the Ransom Center in Austin, Texas by Canadian scholar Brian Parker. On the first page of the manuscript, Williams typed “A 1-act sketch from which ‘The Rose Tattoo’ derived.” Parker dates it to the spring of 1948, when Williams was visiting Italy and Sicily. Several titles are given. The Italian version Il Cane Incantato della Divina Costiera seems to be a phrase Williams overheard, found catchy, and translated himself with creative misunderstanding.

Dog Enchanted introduces the central characters who appear in The Rose Tattoo and sets up the premise of the action. A truck driver courts a juicy Sicilian widow who takes in sewing in a Gulf of Mexico shrimping village. Offstage, the widow’s 15 year-old daughter is on her own first date. Single sentences (“a woman can’t live in a grave” and “I love my husband with all my heart” contain clusters of meaning that, in the full-length version, Williams will unpack into lyrical outpourings of impassioned romanticism.

Nancy Casarro and Larry Coen created the roles. Photos by Sophia Piel.



Ten Blocks on the Camino Real Paysandú, Uruguay 2012

An outdoor production in the Paysandú marketplace, in 2012.

Above: Pavlo Coll as Kilroy

Raul Rodriguez and his Taller de Teatro de Paysandú, Uruguay are quite special: a small company with a circle of students, led by a Russian-trained director and teacher. In practical terms that means the ensemble has the technique to work with with a combination of intermittent realism and Brecht’s ideas of story-telling, ideal for Williams’ Ten Blocks on the Camino Real – the short first version of the better known Camino Real.

Ten Blocks was designed to be performed outdoors in marketplaces and premiered November 4 at the Biennial International Theater Festival in Paysandú. Posters of the characters hang from a backdrop with credits.

The set before the audience arrives: 7 chairs, 2 tables. The blue furniture is for the Seven Seas Hotel, the pink for the House of the Gypsy, the unpainted furniture seats the Player of the Blue Guitar and lifts up the hotel owner.

The play is performed in the Spanish spoken in Uruguay, which is softened by Portuguese. Doubles lls are pronounced sh as in shadow. The word for rain, lluvia, pronounced yuvia in Mexico is, in Uruguay, called shuvia.

Below: Ilse Olivera as the Gypsy, Pavlo Col as KiloryMany of the props were children’s toys: balls, cards, a toy pistol. Don Quixote was the player of the blue guitar astride his guitar like a horse, wearing a triangular paper hat.


See also the 2016 production in Ghana which built on these ideas.

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale Hong Kong 2003

Tennessee Williams’ Alma, in love since childhood with the boy next door.

Eccentricites Bobbie with cig and Fai

In an interview given in 1972, Williams said “I think the character I like most is Miss Alma … You see, Alma went through the same thing that I went through – from puritanical shackles to, well, complete profligacy.”

The Hong Kong Repertory Theatre has, for 37 years, presented a varied program of Western classics, modern Asian drama, and historic Asian literature all performed in Cantonese.  The Hong Kong Rep Eccentricities  rehearsed and performed during the SARS epidemic. It was nominated for several awards for acting and design.

“Shine on Harvest Moon” began each performance, one of many period American songs sung in Cantonese. The townspeople first appeared as shadows, in later scenes they projected shadows.

King Lear Tashkent, Uzbekistan 1997

A Sufi interpretation of Shakespeare’s text

Uzbekistan is in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan. The Uzbeks are the descendents of Chinggis Khan who converted to Islam in the 1300’s. In the deserts of this country the Mongolian shaman was absorbed into the role of the dervish, and the shaman’s ecstatic flight transformed to a whirling dance: the way of the Sufi.

The Sufi path is from death to death. King Lear read in the Sufi way exacts a series of punishments on its heroes if they are to ascend. When we think they have suffered enough, when we think they have died, or deserve to die as a mercy, then there is, of necessity, more pain.

Read more.Rumi, the greatest Sufi poet, wrote verses in 1250 that parallel the imagery of Shakespeare’s Lear. Coleman Barks translates it :

The hard rain and wind
are ways the cloud has
to take care of you.
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
We weep God’s rain,
We laugh God’s lightning.

There is a Sufi idea that life has seven stages, similar
to the idea from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

One man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

A Sufi vision can spy seven souls for Lear in the text. Did Shakespeare know about Sufism? No, never – maybe. because some people in Shakespeare’s time did know. Persian Sufi poetry was known, its ideas transmuted through the filter of the Crusades. Other ideas from Central Asia had been absorbed into European culture without attribution in such disparate phenomena as eyeliner, court jesters, and monasteries. Idries Shah, who wrote the first modern book about Sufism claims it is the secret source for things as English as the Order of the Garter and Morris (from Moorish) Dancing. Is Shakespeare thinking of Rumi? Is Rumi thinking of some yet more ancient wisdom? When a modern day psychologist speaks of seven stages of development, is he thinking of Shakespeare? Or is a journey of seven stages a convincing model of life, and the source for the idea is neither England, nor Vienna, nor Tashkent, but the human condition?

King Lear is one of the defining texts of a European drama culturally specific in its Greek origins. We recognize today that ancient Greece was itself a mixture of Asian and African and European cultures. Staging classic plays in unexpected places tries to locate this collision course of cultures onstage. Lear’s central images: an old man lost in a storm, a daughter wronged by her father, will resonate with audiences as long as there are storms and old men and fathers. As Ezra Pound wrote, that is what it means to be a classic: forever fresh.

Uzbekistan is also the land of the ancient Silk Road. As a post-Soviet independent nation the manufacture and wearing of silk is a part of national identity. The scenery for the production was all silk, including a forty foot square sheet of silk that was waved to create the storm scene. The extraordinary costumes and jewelry are from the period of Tamurlane, the same Tamurlane written about by Shakespeare’s Elizabethan contemporary Christopher Marlowe.

The production was recorded and televised on Uzbek television. Photographs above are from the storm scene. Photographs below: Regan and Goneril facing off.



The Day on Which a Man Dies Chicago 2007, Chicago, East Hampton, Provincetown 2009

Tennessee Williams’ meditation on the death of Jackson PollockDay on Which a Man Dies - McGowan

The Day on Which a Man Dies was written by Tennessee Williams at the height of his public success (1957-59) and kept by the author in reserve. The action in the text is a lover’s quarrel. The main characters are The Man, an acclaimed painter now mocked for his new technique of applying paint with spray-guns; The Woman, the painter’s sharp-tongued companion for eleven years, who has lost faith in him and in his work. The couple argue violently, make up, make love, and betray each other. The Man’s suicide follows soon after. The ceremony of dying has him crashing and crawling through increasingly larger paper screens on which the Woman’s body has been painted. Photo montage by Michael McGowan from the 2009 version with Jeff Christian. Photo below by Johnny Knight of Steve Key, who created the role. See also the 2016 production with Marcel Meyer.

Read more.
Williams subtitled the text An Occidental Noh Play. Noh plays are ghost plays, and the ghost evoked in Williams’ play is Jackson Pollock, who had befriended Williams in 1940. Pollock’s pursuit of new forms beyond the safety of convention represented for Williams a stage-worthy image of a romantic artist – writer or painter – damned for pursuing his visions. Yukio Mishima, the Japanese author of voluptuous excess and precision, also haunts the text. It was Mishima’s “modern Noh plays” and a 1959 visit by Williams to Mishima in Tokyo that lent the playwright a dramatic form with which to embody self-willed damnation. For The Day on Which a Man Dies Williams created a third role – a wry Mishima stand-in – who reflects on sex as power while explaining how Japanese and Western suicides differ, subjects that fascinated Mishima. A shape-shifting stage servant completes the cast, whose role of self-effacing enabler is taken from the conventions of Kabuki.

In David Kaplan’s definitive production, first shown in Chicago in 2007, the scenery is made entirely of paper that is crushed, rattled, cut with a knife, ripped, soaked, spattered, and sprayed with paint. As per Williams intentions, paintings are created and destroyed in the course of the performance.  The bodies of the actors are painted. A progression of color specified by Williams for costumes, scenery and props organizes the meanings of every aspect of the text: story, characters, and the structure of the play. Continue reading →