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 Maids Ulan Baator, Mongolia 1995

Audiences laughed at the maids’ attempts to murder their mistress.

In the photograph above the maids wait for their over-friendly mistress to drink a poisoned cup of tea. “It’s such a pleasure making people happy,” Madame croons.  The cruel humor of the play appealed to Mongolians. Proud infamy is something the descendants of Chinggis Khan understand. Women played all three roles.

Read more.
Mongolia was a cultural colony of Russia — an Asian Cuba. The Russians taught Western drama and the Mongolians continue to enjoy it now that the Russians are gone. In 1995 there were eleven theaters in the capital city, Ulaan Baator, when The Maids, translated into Mongolian from a Russian version of Jean Genet’s French, was performed at the Ulan Baator Youth Theater.

Sartre’s misleading essay in the Grove Press edition of the play insists men perform the play. Genet never said men should play the maids. Besides, men playing women in Mongolia is old hat. Genet’s stage direction describes the maids as older than Madame. Imitating Madame is their fantasy, an illusion that reveals what they are not. An Asian woman wearing a blonde wig had the same resonance in Ulaan Baator.

The opening night audience was the usual mixture of a Mongolian theater crowd: grannies in lurid combinations of turquoise silk robes and tangerine sashes, policemen in black leather jackets and jackboots like storm troopers, Buddhist monks in saffron robes, businessmen in stylish suits, stylish ladies in cashmere sweater dresses , children in Gap clothes, from the local Ulaan Baator Gap Store. They laughed a lot.

The connections between Genet’s ideas and Mongolian culture are many. As always, the play revealed more than itself. At technical rehearsals the boys operating the lights imitated the opening scene: Sartre would have been pleased.

Some Mongolian images below. On the right: True bliss is like eating the heart of your enemy. To the left, a portrait of Ekh Dagin Dondogulam, who ran Mongolia from about 1911 to her death in 1923. Her sumptuous clothes and those of her supposedly celibate husband are exhibits in a museum these days. Note the clock. 

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.

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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 → 

Auntie Mame Penza, Russia 1995

Life’s banquet, in its Russian premiere.

Mame Nora Young PatrickIn the Russian/English dictionary the English word “sophisticated” is defined in Russian as “perverted.” Let that stand for the difficulties of translating Auntie Mame into Russian, done admirably by Lyuba Filimonovna of Samara.

What did the audience make of it?

Oh, they admired Mame, audibly cooed over her clothes and enjoyed her indestructibility. They laughed at the stuck-up debutante and at the overly formal banker.

It was the dowdy stenographer, Gooch, who they loved, Gooch who was the audience’s bridge, their representative to this loud fast very American world. She too, like them, climbing doubtfully up the Art Deco stairs.






It’s small, but Penza appears twice in Russian theatre history. It’s the birth place of the great director Meyerhold. There’s a Meyerhold Museum in town. The town boasts the second oldest theater company in Russia, more than 200 years old. The first actors were serfs.

Man = Man East Harlem 1989


Mr. Bertolt Brecht, 
He says that you can

Take apart a man
And make another man.
How could you do that?
How could that be?
To take another man
And turn him into me?
Can a man be planned
like a brand new car?
Stand him on his head,
Take away his heart?
A re-arranger from
Friend to stranger:
To take a peaceful man
And make him
Full of danger?

Brecht’s story in rap lyrics and improvised scenes performed on the roof of The Boy’s Club of America
at East 111th St and 1st Avenue, NYC