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.

By Lynn Venhaus

One of Tennessee Williams’ most humorous one-act plays, “A Perfect Analysis Given By a Parrot,” will be the next radio play presented by the Tennessee Williams Festival St, Louis on “Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air.”

It will first air on Saturday, Aug. 8, at 5 p.m. on 107.3 FM. You can listen live or you can listen later through several platforms. It is archived at the station’s website and there is an encore Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. They are available for nearly two weeks before the next one. This third show is sponsored by the Jane and Bruce Robert Foundation.

This one is a charmer. I enjoyed the production when it was first presented during the inaugural TWSTL in May 2016. It was staged at the Curtain Call Lounge, with this same cast, under the direction of Brian Hohlfeld.

Kelley Weber

Intrigued by the title? Set at a dive bar in St. Louis, “A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot” follows Flora and Bessie, two proud members of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Sons of Mars, who have traveled from Memphis for the annual convention. All Flora and Bessie want is a good time, but they have been ditched by the conventioneers they have followed. Unfamiliar with the territory, they wonder into a place intent on whooping it up. While drinking fishbowls of beer and listening to sentimental tunes, the pair begin a light-hearted conversation, then loosen up as old memories are stirred. The women, whose relationship could be considered “frenemies,” assess each other’s lives, revealing loneliness and longing.

As I recall, Rachel Tibbetts and Kelley Weber were very good as the two aging Southern Belles, and Bob Harvey, always fun to watch, was the waiter. Always a twinkle in his eye.

This should be a delightful radio play, to hear Williams’ distinctive wordplay, with an amusing display of merriment. Everyone so far has been an excellent listen and so different. This summer series celebrating Williams’ one-act plays is produced by Carrie Houk, artistic director, and programmed every other Saturday. Each episode is introduced by Ken Page, in his signature silky style. Don’t forget to stay afterwards to listen to University of Illinois professor Tom Mitchell provide insights about Williams’ work.

Nisi Sturges as Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore

“The Lady of Larkspur Lotion” was the first, on July 11, sponsored by Mary Strauss, which was terrific in establishing the time, place and characters. Set in a seedy New Orleans boarding house, a delusional long time tenant Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore is convinced that she owns a Brazilian rubber plantation. Shades of Blanche DuBois! (a prototype for sure). The landlady, Mrs. Wire, has always humored her, but when Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore can’t make her rent, the two women start to argue. As if the walls could talk, a young writer steps in, and his dreams are part of the fantasies of those living in this cockroach-infested place.

Williams’ yearning, his desire to fit in, his characters with their fanciful stories — all there. You create these Southern places in your head. The images are vivid, and the production values strong. Nisi Sturges, sublime in last year’s “The Night of the Iguana,” played Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore with impeccable Southern airs, while Rayme Cornell was various degrees of stern as the landlord and Bradley Tejeda intriguing as the mysterious writer (He could have had his own one-act. Maybe he did?).

“This Property is Condemned” was the second one, on July 25. Rising star Elizabeth Teeter, a fine young performer who has appeared in three Broadway shows and starred as Dorothy in the Variety Club’s enchanting “The Wizard of Oz,” played Willie with the right amount of bravado and wistfulness. Tony Merritt II, a Webster Conservatory student, was strong as Tom. It was directed by Tim Ocel, who has beautifully helmed some of the mainstage shows and is guiding five of this summer offering.

Elizabeth Teeter


You might recall “This Property is Condemned” as a 1966 movie starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford. They play town flirt Alva and out-of-town railroad employee Owen respectively, who meet in Ogden, Miss., during the Depression. Alva dreams of getting out of the two-bit town.

The play, however, is told by Alva’s sister, Willie, who meets a guy, Tom, on the abandoned railroad tracks, and tells the story in flashback — about Alva, her mom, Owen and other characters. Williams’ frequent themes — grass is always greener, exaggerated grandiosity— are there, as are his finely drawn female characters.

Tony Merritt

What makes these radio plays – only about 20 minutes each – so special is that Williams’ voice is so recognizable in each of these one-act plays. He wrote many of them during his formative years here in St. Louis, and it’s interesting to see the progression of his work. What a bright, brilliant mind early on whose life influenced all his writings, from start to finish.

Don’t miss these little gems, featuring some of the best and brightest talents using another ‘muscle’ — their voice. For Aug. 8, if you are unfamiliar with Rachel Tibbetts, she is one of the best and most versatile actresses in town, and veteran actress/teacher Kelly Weber won a St. Louis Theater Circle Award last year for another Tennessee Williams one-act, “A Lovely Sunday in Creve Coeur.”

And it’s just fun to catch the names of the local landmarks.

Rachel Tibbetts

Next up: “Hello from Bertha” Aug. 22 5 p.m., streaming until Sept. 4, one of the “Rooming House Plays” that I adore.
Starring: Anita Jackson, Donna Weinsting and Maggie Wininger, directed by David Kaplan, sponsored by John Russell

“Summer at the Lake,” Sept. 5, streaming until Sept. 18
Starring: Donathan Walters, Rayme Cornell, Kelley Weber; directed by Tim Ocel, sponsored by Mary Strauss

“Mr. Paradise,” Sept. 19, streaming until Oct. 2
Starring: Elizabeth Teeter, J. Samuel Davis, directed by Tim Ocel, sponsored by Terry Schnuck

Anita Jackson. Photo by Ride Hamilton

Listen online through:

Live: https://classic1073.org/listen/

Classic 107.3 Apple app: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/classic-107-3/id635075917

On Radio.com: Android or Apple app https://www.radio.com/classic1073/listen

On demand with SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/raf-stl

For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis (TWSTL) will increase its reach this summer with a new radio show. “Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air” is set to launch on July 11. The program will air every other Saturday at 5 p.m. on Classic 107.3 FM. The festival decided to embark on this new venture because “It is important now to unify, elevate and enrich humanity during this very challenging year,” explains Carrie Houk, Executive Artistic Director of TWSTL.

Each episode of “Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air” will consist of fully produced Williams’ one-act plays along with interviews with scholars, directors and actors. Specific details of each broadcast will be posted on the websites of both Classic 107.3 (classic1073.org) and TWSTL (twstl.org).

Ken Page

Broadway legend and St. Louisan Ken Page will narrate and noted Williams scholar Tom Mitchell will offer commentary on each episode. Performers will include: Nisi Sturgis; Rayme Cornell; J. Samuel Davis; Bob Harvey; Anita Jackson; Tony Merritt II; Elizabeth Teeter; Bradley Tejeda; Rachel Tibbits; Donathan Walters; Kelley Weber; Donna Weinsting and Maggie Wininger.  Brian Hohlfeld, David Kaplan and Tim Ocel will be directing.

“The peak of my virtuosity was in the one-act plays.

Some of which are like firecrackers on a rope.” – Tennessee Williams

“Williams felt that one-acts were his strongest format,” Houk points out. “He started out in St. Louis writing one-act plays, and one of his biggest breaks was winning a competition sponsored by the Group Theater in New York—the first time he signed his name as ‘Tennessee’ rather than ‘Tom.’  He wrote more than 70 throughout his career—sometimes edgy, often experimental, and always infused with his unsurpassed poetry.  Many of them have been presented at the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.”

“Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air” will be sponsored by Mary Strauss, Jane and Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation, Ted Wight, John Russell and Terry Schnuck, with more patrons to be announced in the coming weeks.

TWSTL’s reboot of their Fifth Annual Festival this fall will focus on Williams’ youth and time spent with The Mummers, an offbeat St. Louis theatre company that tried out a number of his early plays and is immortalized in Williams essay “Something Wild.” As long as conditions remain safe to produce, “Tennessee Williams: Something Wild” will run October 22 through November 1 at The Link Auditorium (thelinkauditorium.org), formerly The Wednesday Club and the theatre where The Mummers performed. 

About the Festival

Star on Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop

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 2019 Arts Startup of the Year by the Arts & Entertainment Council.

In 2014, Houk produced Williams’ Stairs to the Roof with such success that the on- going 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. Last year’s St. Louis Theater Circle gave them eleven nominations and seven awards, and this year’s seven nominations garnered four more awards. The Festival has attracted thousands to its readings, panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions, and productions.

Lead sponsorship of the festival is provided by Emerson.  The Festival is also funded in part by Mary Strauss, Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, The Whitaker Foundation, Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, Missouri Humanities Council, Trio Foundation of St Louis and the Arts and Education Council.

About Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams drawing by Al Hirschfeld

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.

About Classic 107.3

Classic 107.3, “The Voice for the Arts in St. Louis”, broadcasts at 107.3 FM and on KNOU 96.3 HD2 with a mission to support the cultural landscape in the St. Louis region through programming and outreach efforts. Classic 107.3 plays a variety of music from classical to jazz, opera to blues, Broadway and more, and features local programming including the “Slatkin Shuffle”, hosted by conductor Leonard Slatkin, and Musical Ancestries™, designed to educate school-aged children about world music. In addition, the station airs interviews with artists, musicians, creators and performers, bringing their stories and events to the attention of the St. Louis community. Classic 107.3 is a non-profit station, receiving support from listeners as well as organizations like PNC, the William T. Kemper Foundation and others. More information, as well as live streaming, archived interviews, and podcasts can be found at www.classic1073.org.