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.

            COVID-19 Pandemic Results in Production Streamcast by HEC Media

New Jewish Theatre led the way with six awards at the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Max & Louie Productions’ performance of Indecent garnered five awards, followed by four awards to The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis for its production of A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Circle’s gala event for this year’s award ceremony, originally scheduled for March 30, 2020 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, was canceled. Instead, HEC Media produced a version of the ceremonies that was streamcast on HEC Media’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/hectv/live/) as well as telecast on Spectrum channel 989 and AT&T U-verse channel 99. Here is the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/tCo0AFHbChE

Awards were given in 31 categories covering comedies, dramas and musicals as well as two categories for opera. In addition, Ken and Nancy Kranzberg received a special award for their philanthropic contributions to the arts and theater in the St. Louis area, including many developments in Grand Center. The awards honored outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theater for the calendar year 2019.

A total of 21 productions and 14 companies were recognized by the awards, including eight individuals who have received honors in previous years. Will Bonfiglio, honored as Outstanding Actor in a Comedy for his performance in New Jewish Theatre’s production of Fully Committed, received an award for the third time in the last four years.

The 2020 presentation featured nominees from two companies, Black Mirror Theatre and The Q Collective, which were represented for the first time in consideration of St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.  Each company received an award for outstanding achievement.

In all, 25 local companies received nominations in 33 categories for comedy, drama, musical and opera, as well as 125 individuals up for awards. Honorees who have previously received St. Louis Theater Circle Awards include Will Bonfiglio, J. Samuel Davis, Kari Ely, Michael Hamilton, Patrick Huber, Sean M. Savoie, Margery and Peter Spack, and Maggie Wininger.

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

Nominations for the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards were divided into categories for musicals, dramas, comedies and operas.  More than 120 local professional theatrical productions were staged in the St. Louis area in 2019.

Honorees of the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards are:

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Kelley Weber, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Patrick Blindauer, Love’s Labors Lost, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy (tie)

Katie Kleiger, Pride and Prejudice, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Maggie Wininger, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

Will Bonfiglio, Fully Committed, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Director of a Comedy

Kari Ely, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Production of a Comedy

Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Indecent

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama

Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Carly Uding, Translations, Black Mirror Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

J. Samuel Davis, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Drama

Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root and Roe, Upstream Theater

Outstanding Actor in a Drama

Gary Wayne Barker, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Director of a Drama

Joanne Gordon, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Production of a Drama

Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Set Design in a Play

Margery and Peter Spack, Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play

Felia Davenport, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play

Patrick Huber, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Sound Design

Phillip Evans, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical

Mary Engelbreit and Paige Hathaway, Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical

Sarah Porter, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical

Sean M. Savoie, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Musical Director

Charles Creath, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, The Black Rep

Outstanding Choreographer

Dexandro Montalvo, Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical

Taylor Louderman, Kinky Boots, The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical

Tielere Cheatem, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Kendra Kassebaum, Guys and Dolls, The Muny

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Luke Steingruby, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Q Collective

Outstanding Director of a Musical

Michael Hamilton, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Production of a Musical

Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding New Play

Nonsense and Beauty, by Scott C. Sickles, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

La Boheme

Outstanding Achievement in Opera (tie)

Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Roland Wood, Rigoletto, Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Production of an Opera

La Boheme, Union Avenue Opera

Special Award

Ken and Nancy Kranzberg

Members of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen, stagedoorstl.com; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Tina Farmer, KDHX; Michelle Kenyon, snoopstheatrethoughts.com; Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle (HEC Media); Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Sarah Bryan Miller, St.Louis Post-Dispatch; Judith Newmark, judyacttwo.com; Ann Lemons Pollack, stlouiseats.typepadcom; Tanya Seale, Broadwayworld.com; Lynn Venhaus, PopLifeSTL.com; Bob Wilcox, Two on the Aisle (HEC Media); and Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.Eleanor Mullin, local actress and arts supporter, is the group’s administrator. 

For more information, contact [email protected] or ‘like’ The St. Louis Theater Circle on Facebook.

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By Andrea BraunContributing Writer

The title of the play is based on Frederick Douglass’ exhorting his followers to “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.” This was later in his life, long after he met and became friends with Susan B. Anthony who was already doing just that in her late 20s.

Their friendship would last 45 years and their goals remain the same, though there are bumps in the road: both supported abolition and women’s rights. But it wasn’t all sweetness and light between them because while their causes meshed, their priorities didn’t always do the same. The Agitators now playing at Upstream Theater is an examination of their near-lifelong connection, allowing both of them time to make their points. Perhaps a bit too much time, however, because much of the play seems rather like a lecture. This is is certainly not to say it isn’t mostly well-done, disturbingly timely, and certainly worth a couple of hours of your time.

Douglass (J. Samuel Davis) is close to Anthony’s (Erin Kelley) father, an outspoken abolitionist, and a Quaker. Because of her religion, she tells Douglass early on, even if she could vote, she wouldn’t because Quakers are supposed to be apolitical. Later, she would leave the Society of Friends and change her mind about voting, but when we meet her, the women’s rights question is her priority, along with abolition. Act I begins at the Anthony residence and covers 1849-1869. Act II picks up in 1870 and takes us through 1895.

Playwright Mat Smart has a tough job here: The time
period covered is so long that even though projections help us with what year
it is and where we are, we still get the impression that these two spend a
great deal of time together expressing their views on civil rights. The fact
is, often they would go years without seeing each other, sometimes because they
were busy, other times, because they were angry.

Their longest disagreement was about Douglass’ support
of the 15th Amendments to the Constitution which proposed enfranchisement
of black men but not any women. Unsurprisingly, Anthony takes umbrage at his
support of what she considers a half-measure. She is also angry that Douglass
is accepting financial support from a man she considers a misogynist. This
quarrel leads to their longest period of non-communication.

 He spoke at her
conferences and she appeared at his. Both of them were among the best known
figures of their time. Anthony was the only leader in the 19th
century women’s movement culminating in the meeting in Seneca Falls, NY in
1848. And one should not think that Douglass didn’t support Anthony fully in
her drive for equality; rather, he thought it was too soon and would come when
the time was right. Of course, women got the vote in 1920, long after these
icons were gone.

Photo by ProPhotoSTLAs for any sense of a love story, the affection between the two is palpable, but Douglass was happily married to his wife, Anna (a free black woman who helped him attain his freedom) and after she died, a much younger woman. He also was attractive to women and there is speculation that he had others, but one of them was NOT Susan B. Anthony.

They both wrote books—he a four-volume autobiography; she, in collaboration with other leaders of the movement, a multi-volume treatise on her own beliefs and the causes the women held dear. One good joke is that neither reads the other’s work.

There are more moments of humor that leaven the
proceedings, my favorite being Douglass explaining baseball to Anthony at his
son’s game. It is amusing, until due to a racist incident, it isn’t. They tell
each other bad jokes and engage in teasing banter. At one point, when he is 76
years old, Anthony gives Douglas a pair of ice skates. He is, of course,
nonplussed. But she was a great believer in physical exercise and the moment
demonstrates both their similarities and their differences.

The atmosphere of the play is enhanced by the musical  compositions of and performance by Syrhea
Conaway, a well-known and versatile St. Louis artist. When we first see
Douglass, he is carrying a violin. At several points in the show, he appears to
play his instrument in duets with her that can run the gamut from ethereal to
anger. She uses percussion to round out the sound, and it works beautifully.
The set itself is simple—beams, planks and boxes which get shifted around
often—perhaps rather too often, as it can become distracting. There is a
connection to the story, however, when Anthony tells a story involving a suitor
who wooed her with a warmed plank.

Stage Manager Patrick Huber is responsible for the
lights, as well is the set, and they provide a proper atmosphere, if too dark
at times. Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are historically accurate except
for the anachronistic zippers on Anthony’s boots. Lisa Tejero directs, assisted
by Patience Davis. They keep things moving to the extent that it is possible
when there are so very many words for the actors to say, but despite their
efforts, the production still seems static some of the time. The fact that it’s
a running trope that Anthony cannot sit down is, I assume, supposed to give us
the illusion of motion.

If there are better actors than Kelley and Davis to
play these parts, I don’t know who they are. There were a few stumbles at the
beginning, but when the two hit their stride, all was well from a performance
standpoint. I believed them and more important, I think THEY believed them too.

The last public statement Douglass made was at Seneca Falls saying “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people, but when I took up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.”

He and Anthony are buried in the same cemetery in Rochester, NY, her home town. Together in death, as in life, one wonders what they might have to say about racism and misogyny in 2019.

“The Agitators” is at Upstream Theater through Oct. 13 at the Kranzberg Arts Center. You may contact upstreamtheater.org

By Lynn Venhaus Managing Editor A brilliantly staged and acted “District Merchants” raises timely questions on oppression in a modern reworking of Shakespeare’s 420-year-old “Merchant of Venice.”

Playwright Aaron Posner’s 2016 comedy-drama tweaks the characters,
and sets them in the post-Civil War reconstruction era of 1870, in the nation’s
burgeoning capital, Washington D.C. Scenes also take place in Belmont, Mass.

It was a time of transition – out of ruins came renewal. But
it wasn’t fast or smooth. Posner has us confront the fact that old habits die
hard, change isn’t easy, and our tribes continue to define us, so is all the
uneasy historical issues and disastrous conflicts really in our past? The
clashes could be viewed as somewhat contemporary.

In this New Jewish Theatre production, butting heads are a Jewish immigrant moneylender, Shylock, and black businessman Antoine, shrewdly played by Gary Wayne Barker and J. Samuel Davis respectively, in skillfully calibrated performances.

Antoine has borrowed money from Shylock, but because of a
series of events not his doing, must default. Will he be required to hand over
a “pound of flesh,” as demanded by the loaner? A trial will ensue, but there
will be fireworks in and out of the courtroom regarding power, race, position,
family and loyalty.

The incredibly dynamic duo of Barker and Davis, longtime
local mainstays, spars so convincingly and with such verve that you hang on to
every word and nuance. Their timing is so impeccable that the audience broke
into applause after a couple explosive scenes.

Their triumphant pairing is potent – arguably career best
— but the supporting characters, involved in several thorny romantic subplots,
are exceptional as well.

The noteworthy ensemble has created memorable characters
that also mesh as a unit – even with the conflicts. They project a vibrancy,
with much thought into their role’s development.

Courtney Bailey Parker and Rae Davis. Photo by Eric WoolseySteadfast Courtney Bailey Parker is a strong Portia, who
dresses like a man to audit law classes at Harvard and is striving to define
her role as a smart woman in 19th century America.

She pairs well with love interest Benjamin, a black man
passing for white, and their courtship has a larger context. Rob White is solid
as an agent of change.

Standing out is Rae Davis as Portia’s servant Nessa, and she has stood out in two other plays she was in last year (“Cold,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”), her first in regional St. Louis theater. She has a delightful way with dialogue, as does the sublime Karl Hawkins, who is dandy as Shylock’s servant Lancelot.

Karl Hawkins as Lancelot in “District Merchants.” Photo by Eric WoolseyHawkins charms in every scene, as does Paul Edwards as
Finn, an Irish produce salesman who takes a shine to Shylock’s sheltered
daughter Jessica. At first, his brogue was wobbly, but he grew better, and his
winning personality was enough to endear.

As delicate Jessica who transforms with determination, Alicen
Moser understands the frustration of being a powerful and overprotective father’s
only child. When she rebels, she does it in a big way that nearly destroys her
father.
The relationships are complicated, but this cast pulsates under Jacqueline
Thompson’s perceptive direction.

Thompson has directed this show with such vigor that each
character has a distinct understanding of the material, and with her innovative
touches, has achieved a masterpiece.
She has astutely woven each character into this tapestry, and moves them around
the stage, the striking multi-level set by David Blake, and into the audience
with such purpose —  a flow that keeps
us riveted.

It does not matter if you have never seen Shakespeare’s
most controversial play. “District Merchants” flips it to assure that we see
the maligned, marginal groups in a different perspective – people of faith, of
color, of origin. We look at mercy in a fresh way.

Posner’s unflinching dialogue about stereotypes is tough
stuff, pitting Jews against gentiles, blacks vs. whites, and Irish vs. other
ethnic groups.

Billed as an “uneasy comedy,” you wouldn’t ever regard such
thought-provoking material that tackles racism, bigotry and xenophobia as a
laugh-riot, but there are surprising comic bits that struck a chord with the
audience, a spoonful of sugar if you will. After all, Shakespeare did consider
“Merchant of Venice” one of his comedies.

But mostly, the humor derives from the spoken thoughts and
feelings of the characters, who want basically what everyone wants and how they
tell their story. Because of the caliber of this cast, we are quickly drawn
into this period, and become emotionally invested as well.

Posner’s work appears to be a winner with New Jewish
Theatre. “Life Sucks!,” his comical adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” was
a delightful presentation last spring, and nominated for multiple St. Louis
Theatre Circle Awards (coming up March 25).

This must-see production has raised the bar – and will be a
measuring stick for this year’s offerings, especially with such a harmonious
ensemble.

A work of stunning achievement all the way around – with
beautifully accented lighting by Sean Savoie, richly detailed period costumes
by Felia Davenport and sound design by Zoe Sullivan.

 “District Merchants” is presented by New Jewish Theatre from Jan. 24 – Feb. 10 on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the Wool Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, Creve Coeur. For tickets, visit www.newjewishtheatre.org