It is well documented that playwright Tennessee Williams did not look kindly on his childhood spent in St. Louis, Missouri. Born in Mississippi into a “bucolic atmosphere” near his grandparents, the author of “The Glass Menagerie” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” was uprooted at age eight when his alcoholic father was transferred to International Shoe Company in St. Louis.
“Moving into this polluted, industrial city, which it was at the time, was jarring to say the least,” said Carrie Houk, the executive artistic director of the Tennessee Williams Festival in St. Louis, which returns for its second year on Wednesday night.
Often, Williams found himself moving through life as “the other,” not fitting in at his numerous addresses in St. Louis, schooling at Soldan High School in University City and his college experiences at the University of Missouri and Washington University.
“I connected with him early in life,” Houk told St. Louis on the Air contributor Geri Mitchell. “I started reading his plays in elementary school. Luckily I found him because I felt he had a disconnect walking in his skin and I did too as a kid. I related to that. At the time you think you’re the only oddball — it feels good to know someone else gets that.”
This feeling of other-ness is what this year’s festival is all about, themed as “The Magic of the Other.”
Richard Corley is a Chicago-based director of “Small Craft Warnings,” a lesser-known play Williams wrote in the 1970s, later in his career, featuring a group of people in a California bar who come together and break apart over the course of a night. The play is the marquee production of the festival.
“It is a play where each character has a moment where they stop and turn to the audience with their confession,” Corley said. “It is a play about yearning and a desire for connection. Williams is all about how we’re all in our little boats, but we’re all trying to connect with each other. We’re trying to reach across the distance to make a human relationship, whether it is love, friendship or connection – to overcome our loneliness and find another human being who gets us.”
The last time Corley directed this play was almost 20 years ago in Moscow, Russia (which, side note, Russians love Tennessee Williams). This production will be a rare chance for people to see the play, which is rarely performed.
In addition to Corley’s play, the festival features a plethora of other performances, all taking place within Grand Center. You can find a full list of performances, readings, screenings, panels, tours and other entertainment here.
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