The Tennessee Williams Festival returns for its sixth year.  The headliner is a production of one of the playwright’s most important works, The Glass Menagerie, in the Central West End building where Williams lived and where the play was imagined.

“A year ago, we brought Tennessee Williams into your home ….this year we bring you into his!” said Carrie Houk, the festival’s Executive Artistic Director. “In 2020 we were lucky enough to flourish on the radio during a year that was so challenging for live theatre. In 2021, we return with a vengeance with a site-specific production of The Glass Menagerie at the very building in the Central West End where the Williams family settled when they moved to St Louis.”

“If theatre is ritual, our production of The Glass Menagerie is the equivalent of going to Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome,” explains Brian Hohlfeld, who is directing this production. “There’s no other city in the world where you can see this play in this venue, amid the same red bricks, alleys, and fire-escapes that inspired Williams to write it almost 80 years ago.  We’ve brought back most of our amazing cast from last fall’s radio version, and our entire team is thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to bring this site-specific production to life.”

The festival’s two main performances will be:

Brenda Currin
  • The Glass Menagerie… performed where it was first imagined

This cornerstone of American theatre launched Williams’ career as a playwright, enjoying a lengthy Broadway run and winning the 1945 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. TWStL’s The Glass Menagerie brings the story of Amanda, Tom, and Laura home to the very apartment building that inspired Williams’ quintessential family drama.

The cast includes: Brenda Currin*, Bradley Tejeda*, Elizabeth Teeter* and Chauncy Thomas*. Performances will take place at 8pm at The Tennessee (4633 Westminster Place, 63108) Thursday, August 19 through Sunday, August 22 and Thursday, August 26 through Sunday, August 29.

*denotes member of Actors Equity Association.

  • “You Lied to Me about Centralia:” by John Guare and based on Tennessee Williams’ short story “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”

Before Williams wrote The Glass Menagerie, he told the story of the dysfunctional St. Louis family in his short story, “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.” Picking up where both the short story and The Glass Menagerie end, John Guare’s adaptation of the story picks up where The Glass Menagerie ends, following the gentleman caller after he leaves the Wingfield home to meet his fiancée at the train station. With Williams’ voice reverberating throughout, “You Lied to Me about Centralia” shines new light on The Glass Menagerie. A conversation with Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell will follow the performance.

The cast includes: Chauncy Thomas* and Julia Crump. Performances will take place at The Tennessee (4633 Westminster, 63108) Saturday, August 21 and Sunday August 22.

Chauncy Thomas

*denotes member of Actors Equity Association.

Other festival programming includes: Scholars’ Panels, Walking Tour of Williams’ St. Louis, Tennessee Williams Tribute: “The Moon and Beyond” hosted by Ken Page, happy hour conversation with Blue Song author Dr. Henry Schvey, Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor reading, and more.

For fans who want to make an evening of it, a special Pre-Theater Garden Picnic will be available at Bowood by Niche (4605 Olive, 63108) from 6-8pm (or until sold out) on performance days. The menu includes a picnic basket for two, filled with a packaged assortment of Niche Food Group snacks and desserts. Three signature cocktails inspired by The Glass Menagerie and featuring local spirits and botanicals will be available for individual purchase. Food and drink can be enjoyed in Bowood’s garden up until performance time.

Free, secure parking is available at Holliday (4600 Olive, 63108)  for festival patrons and for pre-theatre dinner patrons at Bowood by Niche.

Lead sponsorship of the festival is provided by Emerson. Additional sponsors and the full festival itinerary can be found at twstl.org. Tickets can be purchased via Metrotix beginning Sunday, July 18.

About the Festival

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis was established in 2016 by Carrie Houk, the award-winning producer, casting director, actor, and educator.  The Festival, which aims to enrich the cultural life of St. Louis by producing an annual theater festival and other artistic events that celebrate the artistry and life of Tennessee Williams, was named the Arts Startup of the Year Award by the Arts and Education Council at the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards.

In 2014, Houk produced Williams’ Stairs to the Roof with such success that the ongoing annual Festival was established. The inaugural Festival was themed “Tennessee Williams: The St. Louis Years,” followed by “The Magic of the Other” in 2017 and “The French Quarter Years” in 2018. The 2019 festival featured Night of the Iguana and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. As the years have passed, the awards have mounted. In the last two years, the St. Louis Theater Circle has given them twelve awards. The Festival has attracted thousands to its readings, panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions, and productions.

About Tennessee Williams

Born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 in Mississippi, Williams moved to St. Louis at age seven, when his father was made an executive with the International Shoe Company (where the City Museum and the Last Hotel are now located). He lived here for more than two decades, attending Washington University, working at the International Shoe Company, and producing his first plays at local theaters. He credited his sometimes difficult experiences in St. Louis for the deeply felt poetic essence that permeates his artistry. When asked later in life when he left St. Louis, he replied, “I never really left.” Most people are familiar with the famous works that have garnered multiple Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, and Academy Awards, such as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. He also wrote hundreds of additional plays, stories, essays, and poems, many of which are only now seeing the light of day as his estate permits greater access. He is today considered by many leading authorities to be America’s greatest playwright.

By Lynn Venhaus

It’s one thing to see a play; it’s another thing just to listen. A whole new world opens in your imagination, and the cultural icon Tennessee Williams is perfectly suited for such an experience.

To make its three remarkable radio presentations accessible, the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis has been extended through Nov.21-22, and you will be captivated by these three works anew. They are free to listen to at www.1073.org and www.twstl.org.

Williams has such a distinctive voice, and you hear his words interpreted with devotion and insight. The performances by the all-star cast assembled this year brings the works to a new level.

Through this fresh and innovative way, the festival continues to pay homage to St. Louis’ greatest playwright, who lived here during his formative years and was greatly influenced by this region.

All three works are richly rewarding aural and theatrical experiences:

Bradley James Tejeda

“The Glass Menagerie,” a beautifully rendered two-hour production of Williams’ most personal play and one of his greatest and most famous, now through Nov. 22.

“You Lied to Me About Centralia,” a delightful one-act by playwright John Guare, who imagines what took place after The Gentleman Caller left the Wingfields to meet his fiancé, Betty, now through Nov. 21.

“Glass,” an intriguing new play by Michael Aman that imagines the actress playing Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” clashing with Tennessee when it opens in Chicago before it heads to Broadway, now through Nov. 21.

As always, stay after for a few moments to listen to Williams’ scholar-in-residence Tom Mitchell for his insight into each work. It’s interesting and informative, and really adds to the festival’s mission. They want us to know Williams intimately, and it shows. You can also take an audio tour of Williams’ St. Louis and hear education panels on his work.

The fifth annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis was going to take us to Italy this spring, showcasing “The Rose Tattoo” and other nuggets from Williams, who was happy soaking up European la dolce vita in a good stretch of his chaotic life.

Then the pandemic hit. The coronavirus public health crisis forced our regional theaters to cancel. Instead, Artistic Director Carrie Houk pivoted with two different sets of programming on radio, partnering with Classic 107.3 FM.

First, this summer, a divine series of Williams’ richly textured one-acts that showcased his yearning and his desire to fit in, all in his distinctive word play. The images of his characters with their fanciful stories were vivid, as were the Southern locations. The attention to detail was strong and the acting talent sublime.

All those engaging qualities have returned with “En Evant!” which means “forward.” We’re moving on, and Houk has discussed the fragility accompanying this year strengthening us in different ways. Williams was a fragile soul, but he also had a strength about him, so necessary to survive in his personal world. A previous season was built around “The Magic of Others,” and this year’s fest also has that aspect – the outsider, the guy not like the others.

In the memory play “The Glass Menagerie,” precious Laura, who is based on Tom’s fragile sister Rose, has too many self-doubts and anxieties to fit in, although she tries. Her inner world is soothed by glass figurines.

Glass – who knew 70 some years later this family’s themes of wanting to be normal, wanting to feel something, and not wanting to be mired in the past, in the fanciful world their mother has clung to all these years, would take on more significance throughout the decades

Elizabeth Teeter

The remarkably poised Elizabeth Teeter, showing her emotional range, will break your heart as Rose.

Brenda Curran is a sympathetic Amanda, although truly a pathetic maternal figure in the pantheon of great mother roles.

She contrasts well with Teeter and Bradley James Tejeda as the protective Tom (Tennessee’s alter-ego).

Tejeda, who is also in “Glass” and was in several of the one-acts this summer, is pitch-perfect in his Williams’ roles. He’s the MVP of 2020. It is a perfect match, like Olivier and Shakespeare, and his vocal work is outstanding. I could listen to him read the phone book.

But that just-right comfortable Southern drawl enhances the character’s development as he draws us in to what Tom is going through – or in “Glass,” what Tennessee is. He’s bursting to get out of town to begin the life he imagines for himself.

He smoothly presents these lived-in characters so we can identify right away. And Williams, ultimately a tragic figure in his own life, is so transparent about his thoughts and feelings that we have an instant attachment.

Chaunery Kingsford, who was in the stunning “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 2018, plays the Gentleman Caller with the right mix of concern and confusion.

Directed by Brian Hohlfeld, a St. Louis native who knows how creative passions will take someone away for their journey, understands the Wingfields. His version is a tidy two hours and hits all the feelings, emphasizing what isn’t said is as potent as what is.

This play takes on new meaning every time I dig in, and it’s never the same experience. If you haven’t read it since high school, listen here – it’s transformative.

Chauncy Thomas

Home, that running Williams’ theme, is used by Guare in “You Lied to Me About Centralia,” featuring the tremendous power of Chauncy Thomas as Jim and Julia Crump as Betty. Julia, who played this part when the TWFest produced it for the Grand Center Theatre Crawl several years ago, is well-suited to play Williams’ roles. She’s convincing as driven Betty, who is immediately defensive for taking a trip to Granite City to see an uncle. She has ulterior motives, which she spills during her conversation with Jim. Chauncy, one of the most powerful actors on stage during his years in St. Louis, exercises a new muscle here – only his voice, and it’s no less effective.

Julia Crump

Directed by Rayme Cornell, this play illuminates the themes of “The Glass Menagerie” in a fascinating way. Just think about how a step or two in another direction could change your life.

“Glass” is interesting in its exploration of personalities and artistic temperament. With Kari Ely playing the diva Laurette Taylor taking on the role of Amanda Wingfield, you can picture her condescending looks and withering stares. And then Tejeda gets in the skin of burgeoning artist Tennessee Williams. This duet is directed by Gary Wayne Barker, a solid veteran on the St. Louis scene.

Ely, an accomplished actress in St. Louis, is flamboyant as a near-has been who wants to be famous again. Will playing Amanda produce the results she seeks? Will Williams get what he wants with his first feature-length play? All conjecture, of course, but Ely and Tejeda are convincing playing these desperate people – one on the way up and one on the way down. This one-act is 90 minutes.

Kari Ely

The vocal work here lulls us into a comfortable place. It’s fun to hear these journeys as these performers create pictures in our minds.

One of the most soothing voices is contributed by Ken Page, who is a masterful speaker. He is the festival’s host and introduces each show with his silky vocals.

So, tune in, turn up the volume, and let the magic of theater take you to new (and old) places.

Presenting sponsor is Emerson.

Donations are appreciated.