18/10/2016 - 22/10/2016
NEW THEATRE COLLECTIVE BRINGS FOUR VINTAGE WORKS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS TO LIFE
black doris is a new independent theatre collective that brings a stellar group of emerging and established artists together in creative exchange. The collective is the brain child of James Beaumont, a well-established director, actor and playwright with a wealth of experience. Beaumont originally trained at NIDA in Sydney and subsequently in New Zealand through Theatre Corporate. He has directed for Auckland Theatre Company, Circa, Taki Rua and Watershed, among many others.
Beaumont is joined by a plethora of talent, including Miriama McDowell (Romeo & Juliet at the Pop-up Globe, The Dark Horse, Shortland Street), Nicola Kawana (A Doll’s House with ATC, Shortland Street, Legend of the Seeker) and Donogh Rees (Not Psycho dir. Ben Henson, Shortland Street, Brokenwood Mysteries).
In black doris’s first project, TENNESSEE retro, they uncover four vintage short plays by the much loved American playwright, Tennessee Williams. Drawn from his first collection of published plays, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1946), TENNESSEE retro will be staged at The Basement as part of their spring season, running from 18-22 October.
The four rare works in TENNESSEE retro are unified by their adroit and significant iterations of Williams’ early female characters. Working on these plays that are rarely performed but are beautifully crafted by such an incredible writer is a dream for the actors involved. Actor Paul Trimmer, who plays The Writer (thought to be a character modelled on Tennessee Williams himself) says, “Tennessee’s plays express a human condition in a highlighted poetic reality, usually very much from his own point of view of an outsider choosing whether to conform to a locked in existence or the free figure they should or would like to be.”
While these early masterworks chronicle the playwright’s beginning experiences, they also subtly expose the national post-depression psyche of America; its need for social conservatism and sameness, and its intolerance of the individual or difference.
Assembling an exceptionally talented group of diverse artists, with emerging artists, recent graduates and well-known theatre luminaries; the black doris projectfeatures – along with Miriama McDowell, Nicola Kawana and Donogh Rees – Paul Trimmer, Timme Cameron, Alexander Walker, Emma Deakin, Christel Chapman and Jimmy Hazelwood.
James Beaumont directs and Mary Rinaldi produces this set of vintage classics that offers a wonderful chance for age-diversity and creative collaboration. It also recognises that nostalgia can persuade us to think about change.
“…he can compress the basic meaning of life — its pathos or its tragedy, its bravery or the quality of its love into one small scene or a few moments of dialogue.” – NEW DIRECTIONS PUBLISHERS (Williams’ publishers since 1936)
“Tennessee was splendidly indiscreet… and as we watch the young T L Williams metamorphose into Tennessee Williams in these pages, it becomes clear that his is the most distinctive, humorous, American voice since Mark Twain” – GORE VIDAL
18-22 October 2016,
8pm every night
12.30pm cheap matinee on Thursday 20 October
2pm matinee on Saturday 22 October
Tickets: $15 – $25
Bookings: www.basementtheatre.co.nz or phone iTicket 09 361 1000
Review by Nathan Joe 21st Oct 2016
Of the three major post-war American playwrights, Tennessee Williams strikes me as the most emotionally rich and rewarding, a master observer of the human condition and poet of the stage. But, despite his influence and legacy, it tends to be The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that he is best remembered for, and often his supposedly lesser works are left untouched. With the black doris project, director and co-producer James Beaumont has made an effort to revive Williams’ earliest short plays with a talented team of emerging and established actors.
Williams, quoted in the programme notes, described his one major theme to be the “destructive impact of society on the sensitive, non-comformist individual,” but the more apparent link between these four short plays (besides all being set in the deep south) seems to be the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive. It’s an unapologetically cynical outlook, but not without an uncomfortable sense of humour running underneath — the humour of recognition and truth. [More]
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Endearing humour belies tragic despair
Review by Nik Smythe 19th Oct 2016
We are seated in a long traverse, two rows each side with the stage running the full length of the Basement theatre space. Each end is wallpapered with brown paper, stuck on with drawing pins. There is a wood-framed glass door at one end and a short worn wooden staircase and balustrade at the other. A wooden tea chest and a brass single bed with an unconscious occupant grace the centre space in anticipation of the first of four short plays from the Mississippi.
The aesthetics and general mood permeating all four works give me an impression of 1930s depression-era, though it turns out Tennessee Williams wrote them between 1941 and 1942. There’s little or no mention of such contemporary American matters as the Second World War however; these are acutely insightful journeys into the insular lives of troubled southerners, their struggles as familiar as they are timeless.
Directed by James Beaumont, the excellently-cast cast is a blend of experienced and emerging actors, congruent with the black doris project’s stated objective, along with the aim to work with “great writing …that demands adept craft”: mission accomplished.
Just a couple of iffy accents and comparatively stiff characterisations have the overall production falling a hair short of theatrical perfection, while the compelling turns of a few up-and-comers give the seasoned pros a run for their money.
In Hello from Bertha Romy Hooper plays eponymous hooker Bertha, bedridden with an unspecified affliction that at first seems exaggerated in order to avoid having to work, ultimately turning on its head as it becomes evident she’s actually downplaying the severity of her illness. Stern whorehouse madam Goldie (Nicola Kawana) has accommodated Bertha’s incapacitation for two weeks so far but grows increasingly intolerant of her delusional ravings.
Auto-Da-Fe concerns Eloi (Alexander Walker) openly despairing the immorality of modern society to his mother (Donogh Rees). Working at the post office, Eloi has accidentally found a lewd photograph and is wracked with anguish as to how to deal with it. His mother is ostensibly more laid back and accepting that things are as they are, including his paranoid hypochondria, until the sudden tragic conclusion.
Miriama McDowell’s Mrs. Hardwicke-Moore, alleged wife of a plantation owner, in The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, echoes Williams’ more (if not most) famous character Blanche Dubois. Judgmental landlady Mrs Wire (Emma Deakin) won’t have a bar of her claims to being accustomed to a more well-to-do, less cockroach-infested way of life, until the drunken writer (Paul Trimmer) speaks up in her defence, advocating mercy for the pitifully deluded woman.
Finally, This Property is Condemned is the strongest of a strong set. Playing hooky to fly his kite, Tom (Jimmy Hazelwood) meets scruffy-haired, rosy cheeked Willie (Timmie Cameron) playing on the railroad tracks. They strike up an amicable conversation, mainly on the topic of her late sister Alva and her intimate relations with the local railway staff. As with the previous pieces, endearing humour belies the tragic despair of the protagonist’s reality.
A clear recurrent theme in the selected works is the tendency for desperate outcasts to escape into fantasy worlds as a matter of mental survival. Steeped in the incredibly poetic eloquence of Williams’ writing, each play reads like a single scene from a larger complex narrative; some details provided in the dialogue with a number of gaps to be filled in by the viewer.
Configured by James Beaumont and Donogh Rees, minimal sets, props authentic period costumes are excellently appointed to highlight the deeply humanistic action, as do the sound and lighting designs of Beaumont and Duncan Milne. All in all Tennessee retro is one of those inspirational productions that a written description can’t really do justice, imbued as it is with the unique language of theatre.
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