HOUSTON -- The Alley Theatre will present the American debut of Not About Nightingales, an early rarity by Tennessee Williams. The international production opens June 10 for a limited run through July 3.
A collaboration between the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain and Corin and Vanessa Redgrave's Moving Theatre, in association with Houston's Tony Award-winning regional company, Not About Nightingales, a prison drama, had its world premiere March 5 at the Royal National's Cottelsoe Theatre in London, under the direction of Royal National artistic director Trevor Nunn, and featuring an international cast of 18 led by Corin Redgrave as the tyrannical warden and Alley actor James Black as the prison leader (with two other Alley members in supporting roles). Still playing there, it has received critical and general acclaim and quickly sold out its limited run.
Not About Nightingales was written in 1938 when Williams, who then went by his given first name Tom, was a playwriting student in his late twenties at University of Iowa. It is based on actual events in a Philadelphia jail involving rebellious inmates, a hunger strike, and sadistic punishment, and it argues against inhumane conditions. It was discovered by Vanessa Redgrave at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin; the Ransom Center houses extensive Williams archives, including manuscripts from approximately 1,000 works. Redgrave came across it in 1996 while in Houston during the first collaboration between the Alley and Moving Theatres: repertory productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Because the companies' first partnership celebrated a great English playwright, it was deemed appropriate that the next should highlight an American master. Not About Nightingales marks the Alley's initial relationship with the Royal National.
Although the Alley had intended all along to be the presenter of its American debut, there were considerable obstacles the troupe had to overcome to do so. One was securing an additional $250,000 outside its budget for the mounting. Grants from prominent Houston philanthropic organizations and major Houston industries have led the way. A second was obtaining approval from American Actors' Equity Association. This has been achieved pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and British Equity. A third consideration concerned venues: the forbidding two-tiered set of somber grays and mechanistic steel is configured in such a way that it won't fit on the Alley's main stage or its smaller space. An alternative venue, the new Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, across the street from the Alley, has been secured.
Not About Nightingales will replace Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize winning How I Learned to Drive, which had been scheduled at the Alley May 22 - June 14. How I Learned to Drive will become part of the Alley's 1998 - 1999 season. For tickets, $22 for previews and $35 - $37 otherwise, call (713) 228-8421