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Mr. Williams and Miss Wood
Adobe Theater Launches Albuquerque's
Tennessee Williams Festival 2011

Mr. Williams and Miss Wood
Ninette Mordaunt and Charles Gravina
Nine plays in eight theaters are celebrating the one hundredth birthday of Tennessee Williams. The Albuquerque Theater Guild is sponsoring the Festival from January through December. Phil Bock has chosen to launch the year-long celebration by directing Mr. Williams and Miss Wood by Max Wilk. Based on correspondence and Miss Wood's memoirs, the two-act play chronicles the tempestuous thirty-year relationship of Tennessee Williams and his strong-willed agent Audrey Wood. Bock states that he admires "Williams' dedication to his work, every day revising or writing something new." The play reveals such sterling habits through Williams' introductory correspondence with his new agent.

The Spartan set, designed by Barbara Bock, consists of a split stage with two work areas and two doors. Williams enters first and starts tapping away at a 1930s portable typewriter while musing "Who is Audrey Wood?" The question rouses audience curiosity. Witty exchanges in direct dialogue, phone calls, soliloquies, telegrams and letters provide Williams' lifetime assessment of the lion-hearted Miss Wood who introduced him to the American theater. She recognized his talent from her first reading of Battle of Angels. For the major run of his career, she arranged payments and productions, finding producers, directors and actors. She introduced him to influential theater and movie moguls and suggested revisions of texts and titles.

Side-by-side monologues give us backstage between-the-lines insights into both Williams' creative process and Wood's fierce foraging for the best production team. Recognizing the brilliance of The Glass Menagerie, she successfully battled Louis B. Mayer, who claimed that MGM owned the rights to "The Gentleman Caller," Williams' working title for his early draft written while he was employed as a screenwriter for MGM. She found Eddie Dowling to produce it and to play the autobiographical role of Tom. With the help of George Jean Nathan, she enlisted Laurette Taylor to create the role of Amanda Wingfield. The play and performers won rave reviews from Claudia Cassidy for Chicago's premiere production which gave the playwright national acclaim and sent the show to further success on Broadway.

After decades of successes, two Pulitzer Prizes for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, and major movies based on plays, playwright and agent fell out over Williams' drug therapy by "Dr. Feelgood" which Wood thought was destroying him. Their sad final reconciliation gives closure to a play that provides background on Williams but not the heart-wrenching conflicts or riveting characters we find in his plays.

Phil Bock has created a fast-moving production with well-timed banter and minimal props and stage business, thus focusing our attention on the language of the repartee, the insider tales, and the roller coaster professional relationship of a temperamental artist and steely businesswoman who created vehicles for his art to flourish. The simplicity of Barbara Bock's set design frames the action without calling attention to itself but charming us with the slow and cumbersome technology of communication more than half a century ago.

Charles Gravina captures Williams' wonder and joy in theater itself, his love of language in dialogue, and his relish in the art of storytelling. His smiling enthusiastic early Williams immediately enchanted the sold-out matinee audience at the final of three performances. Gravina's portrayal of Williams in his later years moping, depressed, and dependent on drugs and alcohol won empathy. Gravina chairs ATG's Theater Safety Task Force and makes his New Mexico acting debut as Tennessee Williams.

Ninette S. Mordaunt, a veteran of Albuquerque theater and the Adobe for 25 years, embodies the stylish, squared-jawed Miss Wood as if the role had been created for her. Mordaunt plays Miss Wood as a woman conscious of her power and aware of Williams' genius. She fills the stage with a confidence of her charm. Favorite roles among her long list of acting credits at theaters around town include Hay Fever, Bedroom Farce, Murder Among Friends, Enchanted April, The Guys, Book of Days, Crossing Delancy, and 84 Charing Cross Road.

The Festival will continue with plays by and about Williams. In March and April the Vortex Theater will produce Night of the Iguana. In July Camino Real Productions will present Rancho Pancho at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. In August The Desert Rose Playhouse will mount Williams' one-act plays The Traveling Companion and A Cavalier for Milady. In September and October Teatro Nuevo Mexico/NHCC will stage A Streetcar Named Desire, the UNM Department of Theatre and Dance will present Eccentricities of a Nightingale, and Albuquerque High School Drama Department will present The Glass Menagerie. In November, the Tricklock Company will present an original strange and magical tale of love, sex and death inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire. In December, the Adobe will revive the musical tribute Cat on a Streetcar Named 'Iguana' by Phil Bock that premiered there ten years ago as Festival finale. Other events include a Tennessee Williams birthday party in March and a panel of Williams scholars at UNM during the Fall semester.

Mr. Williams and Miss Wood was performed January 7 and 8 at 8 pm and January 9 at 2 pm at The Adobe Theater, 9813 Fourth St. NW, on Albuquerque's far north side. For more information call 505-898-9222 or visit www.adobetheater.org


Photo: Ossy Werner  

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe



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