Tom: I’m going out to smoke.
Amanda: You smoke too much. A pack a day at 15 cents a pack. How much would that amount to in a month? … Enough to give you a night-school course in accounting at Washington U!
Tom: I’d rather smoke.
— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
It is the stuff of campus legend. In 1937, Tennessee Williams took fourth in a playwriting competition at Washington University in St. Louis. So upset was the young writer that he soon left town and later, in The Glass Menagerie, exacted his sly artistic revenge.
Sponsored by Thyrsus, a campus theater group, the performances mark both the centenary of Williams’ birth and the 75th anniversary of his admission to Washington University. They also coincide with an Assembly Series lecture by Henry I. Schvey, professor of drama in Arts & Sciences, titled “Tennessee at 100: From Washington University to the Wider World,” which takes place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, in Steinberg Auditorium.
“This is a unique opportunity to feature someone who is not only one of America’s most important playwrights, but also someone who attended Washington University,” says senior Artem Kreimer, treasurer for Thyrsus, who is helping to organize the performances. “Williams is one of those people who you hear about in class as this great playwright, but never really think about as a person. These performances will show you the personal, private side of the celebrity. That’s fascinating to me.”
Like Hal Holbrook’s much-admired Mark Twain, Lawrence doesn’t so much impersonate Williams as channel him, drawing entirely on the author’s own letters, memoirs, poems, plays, articles and other writings. To date, Lawrence has fashioned five separate one-man shows chronicling different periods and different facets of Tennessee’s life.
On Oct. 7, Lawrence will present his latest piece, Tom and Rose, which centers on the playwright’s early years. Subtitled My Sister Was Quicker at Everything Than I, it explores Tennessee’s relationship with his beloved Rose, an enormously intelligent yet deeply troubled young woman who was the model for Laura in The Glass Menagerie.
The following evening, Lawrence will perform Everyone Expects Me to Write Another Streetcar, which finds an aging, acerbic Williams musing about Broadway, the evolution of his writing, the death of his longtime lover, Frank Merlo, and his own harrowing breakdown.
“Among the many elements that make Jeremy Lawrence’s portrayal of Tennessee Williams such a pleasure is his version of the playwright’s laugh,” wrote David Cuthbert, theater critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “In both his early Talking Tennessee, and now in Everyone Expects Me to Write Another Streetcar …. Williams’ laugh emerges as a lascivious, full-bodied explosion.”
Both performances are free and open to the public and take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, Room 208, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
Post-show talkbacks with Lawrence and Schvey will follow each. For more information, call (314) 935-5858.
Thyrsus, WUSTL’s oldest student group, is dedicated to performing and presenting new and experimental theater that may otherwise be overlooked. The group promotes original writing through its monthly No Shame Theater, which offers playwrights the opportunity to hear their works spoken by actors, as well as a playwriting competition in the fall with a full production of the winner in the spring. Thyrsus also hosts an annual Day of Shame — a 24-hour frenzy of playwriting, acting and directing that culminates in a public performance — and a production each fall. Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice will debut this November.
Additional support for the performances is provided by The Assembly Series, Student Union and Washington University Libraries; and by the Center for the Humanities, the Comparative Literature Program, the Department of English and the Performing Arts Department, all in Arts & Sciences.
Lawrence, in addition to performing at major Williams festivals around the country, has depicted the author in productions in New York and Los Angeles. His first one-man show, Talking Tennessee, was named Critics Choice by the Los Angeles Times and led to his being cast as The Writer in Five by Tenn, directed by Michael Kahn at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Lawrence also toured in Tennessee Suite, an evening of two of the playwright’s late one-acts directed by David Kaplan, most recently at the Absolut Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival. Other credits include the Off-Broadway shows What the Public Wants and So Help Me God! as well as the cabaret Lavender Songs, which won Backstage’s Bravo award.
Lawrence’s first television credit was delivering Richie Cunningham’s baby on Happy Days. More recently, he has been seen on Law and Order SVU. Film credits range from Ron Howard’s Nightshift and Brian De Palma’s Body Double to Stephen Frears’ Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
WHO: Jeremy Lawrence
WHAT: Two plays about Tennessee Williams
WHEN: Tom and Rose, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7; Everyone Expects Me to Write Another Streetcar, 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.
WHERE: A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
COST: Free and open to the public.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-5858