Most people are first introduced to Tennessee Williams through classics like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “The Glass Menagerie” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Not too long after the latter’s sold-out run at BAM, a Fort Greene-based theater company looks to introduce Brooklynites to the lesser-known Williams.
Target Margin Theater’s three-week festival, “The Unknown Williams,” running March 11-27 at The Bushwick Starr, explores 12 rarely-produced Williams plays you don’t know, providing a new look at the ones you do.
It was in researching for one of Williams’ bigger-known flops, “Camino Real,” that Target Margin director David Herskovits came across the playwright’s unknown works, pieces hardly ever performed to those never before produced.
“I have been working for some years on the collaboration between Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan on ‘Camino Real’ – a great experiment for them artistically,” says Herskovits. “As we looked into that, we discovered Williams was much more of an experimental writer throughout his career than I had realized, and I believe most people had realized. He’s not just the author of great classics, he’s also a crazy risk taker.”
In curating the three-week festival, Herskovits considered Williams’ work chronologically taking in the full range of his career, from the 1930s to the early 80s. “In each of these decades, you see in so many of his works Williams trying to crack open his own grasp of trying to write a play and what a play can be,” says Herskovits. “I wanted to cover the range of that.”
That results in some works that are “crazy in terms of subject matter,” says the director, with touches of absurdest theater, social and political issues, and sexually aggressive material. In one night, for instance, there’s “The Pronoun ‘I’”, featuring a mad Queen of England, a nearly nude narcissistic boy-beloved, and a hot rugged revolutionary, “Green Eyes,” an erotic thriller that tests the limits of sexual tolerance in a backhanded satire of heterosexual matrimony, and “The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde,” a perverseand brutal workwhich has been described as Williams’ “most unpleasant play.” Williams scholar Philip C. Kolin has even gone so far to say it’s an “outrageous, horrific, perhaps even beyond production.” You’re certainly in for a treat.
Being that these plays are rarely if ever performed, that left the directors open to a lot of experimentation themselves. “The Purification,” for instance, Williams’ only verse drama, tells a tale of passion, murder and blood atonement in territorial New Mexico. Target Margin will tell it through puppets.
“The text itself is quite mythic, Greek in its story. It lends itself very easily to a kind of theatrical treatment in that way,” says Herskovits.
The festival is a continuation of Target Margin’s exploration of Williams. Last season, they presented a sold-out extended run of “Ten Blocks on the Camino Real.” This season, following the Brooklyn festival, they present the world premiere of a new play, “The Really Big Once,” which focuses on the tumultuous and creative partnership between Williams and Kazan, running at the Ontological in Manhattan April 15-May 8.
For The Bushwick Starr, the festival is a shift in gears, as they come off their rock opera “New Hope City.” It’s a transition artistic director Sue Kessler couldn’t be more thrilled about.
“We’re trying to keep the season really diverse,” says Kessler. “It’s not being a one-note venue. We want to offer a variety of different things that will appeal to a variety of different audiences.”
For his part, Herskovits hopes audiences will see all of Williams’ works in a new light.
“By understanding the range of his work, you then return to the touchstone Williams works and see them differently,” he says. “If you can come and check out multiple lab shows, you get the benefit of a perspective on the guy’s writing as a whole.”