Tennessee Williams, second from left, in Provincetown  circa 1940with (l-r) Joe Hazan, Ethel Elkovsky, Walter Hollander,and an unidentified friend(Photo courtesy of Joe Hazan)
Tennessee Williams, second from left, in Provincetown circa 1940
with (l-r) Joe Hazan, Ethel Elkovsky, Walter Hollander,
and an unidentified friend
(Photo courtesy of Joe Hazan)
When most theater people hear the word "Provincetown," they immediately think "Eugene O'Neill," since that playwright was closely associated with the Provincetown Players in his youth. But another great American dramatist did significant work in the town located at the tip of Cape Cod. Hence the first annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, September 28-October 1.

While this fact may not be widely known, some of Williams' greatest plays -- including The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire -- were written at least in part during his time on the Cape. "There is a proprietary interest in Williams among Southern culturalists to claim him as theirs, so they don't even like to mention his work in Provincetown,"says David Kaplan, the festival's curator. "Also, I think Provincetown prefers to be represented by O'Neill, the Nobel prize winning Father of the American Theater, rather than by this pill-popping reprobate who ate clam bellies, had to hock his typewriter, and was having oral sex with sailors down by the docks."

The wide-ranging festival will take place in several venues and will incorporate everything from readings of Williams' short stories and poety by local celebrities to film screenings to productions of one-acts and scenes from full-length works, not to mention The Glass Menagerie as performed by the Provincetown High School Drama Department and the rape scene from the Streetcar Named Desire ballet as performed by the Dance Theater of Harlem. But the most noteworthy item on the agenda is the world premiere The Parade, or Approaching the End of Summer, an autobiographical one-act based on Williams' relationships with a dancer who called himself Kip Kiernan and with Ethel Elkovsky, a New Yorker who was in love with the playwright during his time in Provincetown. It will be performed by Shakespeare on the Cape, a company founded by graduates of the BFA Guthrie Actor Training Program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

"The play is about 45 minutes long, and there are five characters," says Kaplan. "It's a good play; we wouldn't do it just for the curiosity value. I found the original version from 1940 at the Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, where a lot of the Williams manuscripts are. Later, I found a copy of a 1962 rewrite, which is more polished. That's the version we're going to do. Is the play a long-lost masterpiece? No. But it shows that, as early as 1940, Williams was secure enough in his gay identity to make art out of it."

-- M.P.

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Velma Austin and Anthony Fleming IIIin Denmark(© Michael Brosilow)
Velma Austin and Anthony Fleming III
in Denmark
(© Michael Brosilow)
After winning a city lottery and buying his freedom from slavery in the 1800s, Denmark Vesey stayed in Charleston, South Carolina with the woman he loved and their children, although he never managed to buy their liberty as well. Later, he was suspected of organizing a revolt that would have freed thousands of slaves and relocated them to Haiti. In 1822, the courts convicted 67 men of conspiracy and hanged 35 of them, including Vesey.

Whether the plot actually existed or was an example of white hysteria is a matter of historical debate. Nevertheless, playwright Charles Smith is exploring the subject in Denmark, which is receiving its world premiere production next month at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, where it was previously workshopped.

Vesey's dilemma fascinates Smith. "What would I do if I could live happily ever after with my wife or sacrifice that for the chance that I could do a greater good? I think I would pick the greater good, but I don't know," he says. He also argues that there are parallels between this historical incident and American foreign policy today, and goes on to describes Vesey as a suspected "terrorist" whom people in power were eager to "exterminate."

So, how does Smith think audiences will respond to the implicit comparison between today's terrorists and African-American slaves of 200 years ago? "I have absolutely no idea," he admits. "Every time I think that what I believe is pretty common across the country, things happen politically and I realize that I may be on the periphery."

-- A.K.

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Jeff Griffith
Jeff Griffith
Most people know novelist Douglas Adams for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a comic sci-fi romp that was the first part of a popular five-book series; it has been adapted to film, television, radio, and has even inspired video games. Fans may want to check out Dirk, the stage adaptation of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, another of Adams' books, which is being given its U.S. premiere by the Road Theater Company in North Hollywood beginning on September 29

Director Jeff Griffith describes the play as "a mystery in which there's no way that anybody could possibly hope to solve it." However, unlike your average whodunit, the clues of the case include ghosts and time-travel, and the tone shifts everywhere from romantic comedy to horror. The title character is called a "holistic" detective because he tries to make sense of seemingly random events, like a horse appearing in an upstairs bathtub and a man climbing three stories of a building to surprise his girlfriend with flowers. "The story is completely convoluted," says Griffith, "but it's supposed to be that way."

Road Theater is using state-of-the-art multimedia technology to properly present the space-age play, including film projections of 3-D model sets . This is a big step for the company, but Griffith says he imagines that the first theater artists to employ electronic sound amplification probably encountered similar anxieties to those he and his colleagues are experiencing. "We're kind of having the same growing pains," he admits, "but the same sense of wonder as well."

-- A.K.