Tennessee Williams comes alive in ‘Night of Stars’
ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Invite Tennessee Williams to give a talk, and you’d better be prepared for anything. And anything in the case of A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams, by Maxim Vinogradov, includes a boozy Williams with apparitions of Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote.
Even with his indelible mark on American theatre and literature, Tennessee Williams is largely a forgotten character as a man. Sure, his plays get done every year in all parts of the world–especially Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, but even in his own time Williams became a forgotten man through the late 1960s and 70s until his death in 1983. His hey-day was the late 1940s through the 50s and early 60s. Indeed, many of his other plays besides the two biggies were not critically well-received, nor popular at the box office.
Bailey Boudreau [nominated for 2018 Wilde Award-Best Lead Actor in a Play] embodies the playwright, who lived in and out of the closet during much of his life depending on who was in the room. He was an alcoholic, and had suffered poor health as a child with diphtheria, an affliction from which many children did not recover. He also suffered decades of grief from the plight of his sister who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was lobotomized by their mother at a young age.
This device, of someone giving a talk, has been used before for a stage production [in a truly awful way in the case of “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man,” a truly garbage production], but Vinogradov uses the device to get into Williams’ life and head in a very deft and clever way. The jurors at The University of Michigan agreed as they gave the young playwright the prestigious Hopwood Award for this play. The story also uses the device of apparitions–in the form of Williams’ past stars, his Mother, sister, lover–a structure that is becoming more and more common to tell the stories of performer-centered bio shows. Again, while the structure has become common, the playwright employs it well.
The ensemble of actors does a fine job of representing their famous characters; Richard Payton is exceptional as Truman Capote, Sarah B. Stevens as his sister Rose, Luna Alexander as Liz Taylor and Bette Davis, Steve Xander Carson as Frankie, Williams’ long-time boyfriend; Jake B. Rydell as Marlon Brando; Jeanine Thompson as Diane Barrymore, Grace Jolliffe as Greta Garbo, Jackson Abohasira as Andy Warhol. Jan Cartright plays both Edwina, his assistant helping Williams with the presentation, as well as his Mother, and she eats up the second role in particular, given very good lines by the playwright. Director Mandy Logsdon does well to make this show, which premiered at Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Ferndale (this run at Theatre Nova is a joint production).
Boudreau is naturally the focus and the core of the play as Williams himself, and he brings an internal pain and struggle to the role that makes it feel as if the actor is at one with the character. Boudreau, the artistic director and founder of Slipstream eats, drinks and sleeps theater, and so this has to be a role of a lifetime for him, and he makes the most of it. It would be something to see it played out on a larger stage. But for now, you have one more weekend to catch this award winning (also nominated for a 2018 Wilde Award-Best Original Script) on the intimate stage of Theatre Nova.