Elizabeth Ashley Will Remember Tennessee Williams at NYC Eccentricities Chat

News   Elizabeth Ashley Will Remember Tennessee Williams at NYC Eccentricities Chat Tony Award winner Elizabeth Ashley, a veteran actress of plays by the late Tennessee Williams, will talk about his life and work in a post-show chat at the May 10 matinee performance of The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, at the Clurman Theatre in New York City.

The Actors Company Theater/TACT is presenting the rare revival of Eccentricities, Williams' rewrite of Summer and Smoke. The revival has been embraced by critics.

Ashley will discuss her favorite Williams roles and recount stories about her special friendship with the playwright.

Ashley was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award for playing Maggie in the 1975 revival of Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Take Her, She's Mine. In 1995 on Broadway, she was Mrs. Venable in Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer; Off-Broadway, she was in Williams' The Red Devil Battery Sign and The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore. She's also played Williams roles around the country.

The May 10 Eccentricities matinee is at 2 PM. The production continues to May 24.

This is the first New York City production of Eccentricities since its Broadway bow in 1976. Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street. The production schedule is Monday, Thursday, Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.

Tickets are $20. For information call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com. For more information about this production or TACT, visit www.tactnyc.org.

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The first New York City revival of Tennessee Williams' The Eccentricities of a Nightingale — the playwright's reconsideration of his more busy and cluttered 1947 drama, Summer and Smoke — opened May 5 at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre.

TACT company member Mary Bacon (of Broadway's Rock 'n' Roll) plays Alma Winemiller, the yearning preacher's daughter who has always loved the boy next door in her Mississippi town of Glorious Hill. The boy is now a man — Dr. John Buchanan, played by guest artist Todd Gearhart (of the Guthrie Theater's All My Sons). Previews began April 27.

Many know that Eccentricities (written in 1951, published in 1964) was Williams' reconsideration of Summer and Smoke. This new Off-Off-Broadway production's director, Jenn Thompson, said that Williams preferred this play over the earlier, better-known work.

"Where the overwrought Summer and Smoke is a study of the black and white battle between the body and the soul, Eccentricities sets its sights on something infinitely more personal: the human search for authenticity," Thompson told Playbill.com.

TACT bills the play this way: "A sensuous story of longing and rebellion, Tennessee Williams' The Eccentricities of a Nightingale charts the delicate journey of Alma Winemiller, known as 'the nightingale of the Delta,' who lives in her stifling parents' home in a small-minded Southern town. Suppressed by her joyless father and ostracized by the community for her artistic temperament, she finds solace in her music — and in the secret lifelong love she has for the boy-next-door, turned handsome grown-up, Dr. John Buchanan. Driven by her desire for truth and beauty, Miss Alma finally confesses her longing to John and what emerges is one of the theatre's most startlingly modern and complex love stories."

Bacon and Gearhart are joined by TACT company members and Broadway veterans Larry Keith (Primary Stages' Southern Comforts, Broadway's Caroline, Or Change, Titanic) as the Rev. Winemiller and Darrie Lawrence (Come Back Little Sheba, Steel Magnolias, Buried Child) as Mrs. Buchanan. Fellow company members Nora Chester (as Mrs. Winemiller), Cynthia Darlow, Francesca Di Mauro, Greg McFadden, James Prendergast and Scott Schafer round out the cast.

The Williams estate granted The Actors Company Theatre special permission to stage the play in Manhattan, more than 30 years after its brief 28-performance Broadway run.

According to TACT notes, citing the Williams estate, "Williams believed Eccentricities to be both 'less conventional and melodramatic' than the play from which it was derived. Still set shortly before the First World War in Glorious Hill, Mississippi (the mythical literary landscape mentioned in at least a dozen Williams plays), the reconsidered Alma of Eccentricities bears little resemblance to the repressed spinster of Williams' earlier work. A sensitive and misunderstood artist, this earthier, warm-blooded incarnation comes far closer to Williams' original vision of the character, found in his celebrated short stories 'Yellow Bird' and 'Oriflamme.' Indeed, Williams so identified with 'Miss Alma' that he declared her to be the dearest and most emotionally autobiographical character in any of his plays."

TACT co-artistic and executive director Scott Alan Evans stated, "This play epitomizes the mission of TACT: to unearth worthy though unjustifiably neglected works and breathe new life into them with the hope of returning them back into the cannon of plays produced. This is our first Williams and we're honored to be presenting it."

Pulitzer Prize winner Williams is best known for his plays The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Director Thompson is both a company member and associate producer of TACT, having appeared in several productions. She most recently directed My 3 Angels, Rain and Kind Lady for TACT. Other recent New York City directing credits include the world premieres of Badge (Beacon Productions at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre), Term Limit (American Globe Theatre), The Brilliance of Bernstein (American Musicals Project at the NY Historical Society) and Richard Thompson's critically acclaimed play Big Doolie, which sold out its run at the 10th NYC Fringe Festival. She is a producing director and founding company member of Connecticut's River Rep Theatre Company, for which she performed in more than 40 plays and musicals and directed The Foreigner, Dinner With Friends, The Heiress and Damn Yankees. On Broadway she appeared in The Heiress, Ah, Wilderness! and Annie.

The design team includes TACT company members Darryl Bornstein (sound), Jonathan Faiman (original music) and David Toser (costumes), joined by Lucrecia Briceno (lighting) and Bill Clarke (sets).

Larry Keith and Nora Chester and the Rev. and Mrs. Winemiller in TACT's Eccentricities.
Mary Bacon as Alma and Todd Gearhart as Dr. John Buchanan in TACT's Eccentricities.

Photos by Stephen Kunken