Summer and Smoke Review: Marin Ireland in Tennessee Williams’ Play About Longing

“Summer and Smoke,” Tennessee Williams’ ripe Southern Gothic tale about a preacher’s daughter and her lifelong longing for the doctor’s son next door, is being given a minimalist co-production by  the Classic Stage Company and the Transport Group, which feels neither classic nor transporting.

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Broadway Spring 2017 Preview Guide


Yes, Glenn Close, Sally Field, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Bette Midler, and Cynthia Nixon are all returning to Broadway in Spring 2017, and Cate Blanchett and Danny DeVito are making their Broadway debuts. But Broadway is more than its divas and hunks.

The Spring 2017 season begins with a new play based on Chekhov and ends almost four months later with a new play based on Ibsen. Frequently revived plays by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Lillian Hellman are all back again, while the one play by August Wilson that was never produced on Broadway finally gets there. Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights Lynn Nottage and Paula Vogel make their Broadway debuts with serious new works that were hits Off-Broadway. And the 41st Broadway house is being inaugurated this season with a Sondheim revival.

Or, yet another way to look at the season, three big beloved Broadway musicals are back, and seven new musicals (four of them based on movies) are making their debuts.

Below are the plays and musicals opening on Broadway from January through April, 2017, going chronologically by opening dates. Things are likely to change — additions, subtractions, rescheduling —  in the weeks and months ahead.


the-present-logoThe Present

Theater: Ethel Barrymore
Playwright: Andrew Lipton
Director: John Crowley
First preview: December 17
Opening: January 8, 2017
Closing: March 19
Cast: Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh
A new play based on Anton Chekhov’s Platonov, with the action transposed to the 1990s.


Twitter feed: @thepresentbway

Buy tickets to The Present



jitney-logoTheater: MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman
Playwright: August Wilson
Director: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
First preview: December 28, 2016
Opening: January 19, 2017
Tweeter feed: @MTC_NYC


Broadway premiere of Wilson’s first play, the only work from his The American Century Cycle never previously seen on Broadway. Set in the early 1970’s, the story follows a group of men who drive unlicensed cabs or jitneys.

Buy tickets to Jitney


sunset-boulevard-logoSunset Boulevard

Theater: The Palace
First Preview: February 2, 2017
Opening: February 9, 2017
Written by Christopher Hampton and Don Black (book/lyrics), and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music)
Director: Lonny Price
Cast: Glenn Close
Revival of the 1994 musical based on the 1950 Billy Wilder movie about a faded Hollywood silent film goddess who tries to make one last comeback. This production was seen in a spring 2016 revival in London.



Buy tickets to Sunset Boulevard

Sunday in the Park With George

sunday-in-the-park-logoTheater; Hudson
First Preview: February 2, 2017
Opens: February 23

Closes: April 23
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by James Lapine
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford
Transfer of the New York City Center‘s fall 2016 concert version of the Pulitzer-winning 1984 musical about pointillist painter George Seurat.



Buy tickets to Sunday in the Park with George


Significant Other

Significant Other logoTheater: Booth

Previews: February 14, 2017
Opens: March 2, 2017
Playwright: Joshua Harmon
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Gideon Glick, Barbara Barrie and Lindsay Mendez
Transfer of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2015 Off-Broadway hit about a gay bachelor looking for love in the big city.



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The Glass Menagerie

glass-menagerie-logoTheater: John Golden
Playwright: Tennessee Williams
Director: Sam Gold
First preview: February 14, 2017
Opening March 9, 2017
Cast: Sally Field, Joe Mantello, Finn Witrock, Madison Ferris
The eighth production of Tennessee Williams play on Broadway.


Buy tickets to The Glass Menagerie

Come From Away

Theater: Schoenfeld
Previews: February 18, 2017
Opens: March 12, 2017
Book, music and lyrics by the Canadian husband-and-wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein.
Director: Christopher Ashley
Cast: Chad Kimball, Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Rodney Hicks and Caesar Samayoa.
New musical that explores the lasting connection forged between a group of travelers whose planes were diverted to a small Newfoundland town on Sept. 11, 2001.
The show had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in summer 2015,



Buy tickets to Come From Away

The Price

theprice-logoTheater: Roundabout’s American Airlines
Playwright: Arthur Miller
Director: Terry Kinney
First preview: February 16, 2017
Opening: March 16, 2017
Cast: Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht, Tony Shalhoub, John Turturro
Tweeter feed: @RTC_NYC


A revival of the 1968 drama about two estranged brothers who reunite to sell their the remainder of their parents’ estate.

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Miss Saigon

Miss Saigon logoTheater: Broadway
Previews: March 1, 2017
Opens: March 23, 2017
Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music), Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (lyrics), Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (book)
Director: Laurence Connor
Cast: Jon Jon Briones and Eva Noblezada
An American soldier named Chris marries Kim in Vietnam before departing for the US. Three years later, he returns to find Kim still alive and raising Tam, a boy he fathered. With the Viet Cong closing in on the city and two women wanting the only place in his heart, Chris has big decisions to make.



Buy tickets to Miss Saigon


sweat-logoTheater: Studio 54
First previews: March 4, 2017
Opens: March 26, 2017
Playwright: Lynn Nottage
Director: Kate Whoriskey
Cast: Carlo Albán, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Miriam Shor, Lance Coadie Williams, and Michelle Wilson
Broadway transfer of the hit Public Theatre production of Nottage’s drama about blue-collar workers in a Pennsylvania town at the turn of the millennium.

Twitter: @SweatBroadway


My review of Sweat off-Broadway

Buy tickets to Sweat


The Play That Goes Wrong

play-that-goes-wrong-logoTheater: Lyceum
First preview: March 9, 2017
Opens: April 2, 2017
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Cast: Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit.
Olivier Award-winning comedy about an amateur university production that goes hopelessly awry

Twitter: @BwayGoesWrong


Buy tickets to The Play That Goes Wrong


amelie-logoTheatre: Walter Kerr
First preview: March 9, 2017
Opens: April 3, 2017
Written by Dan Messé (music), Nathan Tyson (lyrics), Craig Lucas (book)
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Cast: Phillipa Soo and Adam Chanler-Berat
A musical adaptation of the  2001 film, which starred Audrey Tautou as a shy waitress with a wild imagination.



Buy tickets to Amelie

Present Laughter

present-laughter-logoTheater: St. James
Target Previews: Early spring 2017
Opening: April 5, 2017
Playwright: Noël Coward
Director: Moritz von Suelpnagel
Cast: Kevin Kline

Revival of the 1940s comedy about the tribulations of a popular matinee idol.



Buy tickets to Present Laughter

War Paint

Theater: Nederlander
Previews: March 7, 2017
Opening: April 6, 2017
Writers: Book by Doug Wrights; music and lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie
Director: Michael Grief; choreographer: Christopher Gattelli
Cast: Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole
Musical based on the rivalry of cosmetics titans Helena Rubenstein (LuPone) and Elizabeth Arden (Ebersole)
Premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in summer 2016.



Buy tickets to War Paint


Theater: Vivian Beaumont
Previews: March 23, 2017
Opens: April 13, 2017
Playwright: J.T. Rogers
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Daniel Jenkins, Jefferson Mays and Daniel Oreskes
Transfer of Lincoln Center Theater’s Off-Broadway production of the play about the top-secret, high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

My review of “Oslo” Off-Broadway



Buy tickets to Oslo

 Groundhog Day

groundhog-day-logoTheater: August Wilson
Previews: March 2017
Opening: April 17, 2017
Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, book by Danny Rubin
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Andy Karl
A musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray film about a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again. Will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle?
Produced in London in summer 2016.



Buy tickets to Groundhog Day

Six Degrees of Separation

six-degrees-of-separation-logoTheater: Barrymore
Target Opening: April 2017
Playwright: John Guare
Director: Trip Cullman
Cast: Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey
Revival of the 1990 drama about a young con man who is embraced by wealthy New Yorkers after passing himself off as Sidney Poitier’s son.



Buy tickets to Six Degrees of Separation


indecent-logoTheater: Cort
Opening: April 18, 2017
Playwright: Paula Vogel
Director: Rebecca Taichman
Cast: TBA

A behind-the-scenes look at the true story of the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “God of Vengeance” — “a play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel,” in part because of its lesbian lovers.

My review of Indecent Off-Broadway



Buy tickets to Indecent

The Little Foxes

Theater: MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director: Daniel Sullivan
First preview: March 29, 2017
Opening: April 19, 2017
Cast: Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon

The fifth Broadway production of the 1930 drama about a ruthless Southern belle.


Buy tickets to The Little Foxes

Hello, Dolly

Hello Dolly logoTheater: Shubert
Authors: Music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, book by Michael Stewart
Director: Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle
First preview: March 13, 2017
Opening: April 20, 2017
Cast: Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce
Tweeter feed: @HelloDollyBway

The fifth Broadway production of the 1964 musical about a matchmaker who sets out to find a match for herself at the turn of the 20th century.

Buy tickets to Hello, Dolly

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory logoTheater: Lunt-Fontanne
First Preview: March 28, 2017
Opening: April 23, 2017
Written by David Greig (book), Marc Shaiman (music & lyrics), Scott Wittman (lyrics), Roald Dahl (novel)
Director: Jack O’Brien
Cast: Christian Borle as Willy Wonka
When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it’s the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always dreamed of. But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as the five lucky winners discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.



Buy tickets to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


anastasia-logoTheater: Broadhurst
First Preview: March 23, 2017
Opening: April 24, 2017
Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Terrence McNally
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Cast: Christy Altomare, Derek Klana, Ramin Karimloo, Mary Beth Peil, John Bolton, and Caroline O’Connor
Inspired by the 1997 film about a young woman who may be the last surviving member of the Russian royal family. The score includes songs from the movie, including the Oscar- nominated “Journey to the Past,” plus an entirely new score from the Tony Award-winning team.
The musical had its world premiere at Hartford in 2016.



Buy tickets to Anastasia


bandstand-logoTheater: Bernard Jacobs
First Preview: March 31, 2017
Opening: April 26, 2017
Music by Richard Oberacker and book and lyrics by Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker
Director/Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuhler
Cast: Laura Osnes and Corey Cott
This “big-band musical” chronicles a mismatched band of WWII veterans who join forces to compete in a radio contest.
The show debuted in 2015 at Paper Mill Playhouse



Buy tickets to Bandstand

A Doll’s House, Part 2

a-dolls-house-logoTheater: Golden
First Preview: April 1, 2017
Opening: April 27, 2017
Playwright: Lucas Hnath
Director: Sam Gold
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad.
Sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s play, following up after Nora has left her husband and children.



Buy tickets to A Doll’s House, Part 2


Also check out my monthly calendar of theater openings, which includes Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway.

Full 2016-2017 Broadway season, including my reviews of the shows that have opened.

Stella! Tennessee Williams Festivals, From NY to New Orleans, Mississippi to Massachusetts


“Stella!!” the first performer yelled.

“Stella!!!” he repeated more dramatically.

“STELLAAAAAA!!!!!!,” he shouted yet again, desperately, and he crouched down on the makeshift stage on Jackson Square in New Orleans and ripped open his shirt.

2015TWStellacontestThe next contestant also ripped open his shirt, as did contestant four (dousing himself first with water), contestant 18 (a young woman), and contestant 20 (an older man.) But there was a surprising variety in the shouting at this last of some 50 events at more than a dozen locations that made up the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival in March. Beneath a balcony graced with the city’s characteristic wrought iron railing, a parade of Stella-yellers beseeched their estranged wife (actually festival board president Janet Daley Duval), who was dressed in a black negligee and wielded a microphone to encourage or mock a busker painted all in gold; an entire family who screamed after inhaling from helium-filled balloons; a middle aged man delivering a monologue full of shrugs and Yiddishisms; a woman who flailed on the ground as if having an epileptic fit.

StellajudgesandStellaThe judges — including Williams veteran performer Keir Dullea (who played Brick in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on Broadway) and his wife the actress Mia Dillon – disappeared off the balcony to deliberate. They returned with the winner: Daphne Britton, who had grabbed the sides of her face with both hands and squeezed as if truly upset, and then, her hands functioning as a megaphone, let out a shout that parted the ions in the air.

tennessee-williams 1973“I’m a big Tennessee Williams fan,” said Britton, who majored in English literature as an undergraduate and is now a graduate student in education. But this was the only one of the festival events in which she participated – or has ever participated in. “I don’t have the time; I have homework. I don’t get out much.”

If the Stella shouting match, which became an annual event in 1996, has not quite reached the status of the running of the bulls in Pamplona among lovers of American literary lore, it’s part of a phenomenon that not even all Williams fans know about – the proliferation of annual Tennessee Williams festivals. There are a total of five in the South and the Northeast, one about to mark a major anniversary. A sixth has scheduled its debut in the Midwest next year.

“Each serves its own purpose,” says Kenneth Holditch, who helped start three of them.

It Began in New Orleans

TWFKennethHolditchOn a second-floor parlor of the Hotel Monteleone, an officially designated literary landmark where Williams liked to stay which is the official headquarters for the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, Dr. Holditch was holding forth on his friendship with Tennessee Williams. “I was fortunate to get to know him in the late 1970s.

“Two environments provide inspiration for most of his best work – Mississippi and New Orleans,” said Holditch, who himself grew up in Mississippi and now lives in New Orleans. His adopted city, he pointed out, is the setting for A Streetcar Named Desire, Suddenly Last Summer, Vieux Carre “and the one-act plays.”

Dr. Holditch has written several books about Williams – with Mel Gussow, he edited the two-volume Library of America edition of Williams’s plays — and you can see his name throughout the French Quarter, at the bottom of several plaques and posters on Williams landmarks (where the celebrated writer lived, where he ate, where he drank) for which Holditch wrote the text. His lecture about Williams at the Hotel Monteleone served as an introduction to the walking tour of Williams landmarks that others in Holditch’s tour company now conduct (“I can no longer walk well enough.”)



The New Orleans Williams festival began, as he recounts it, when “a group of people decided over dinner one night that there should be a festival in New Orleans to honor something other than sports and food.” In 1986, three years after Williams’ death, the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival was officially launched, the oldest and largest of the festivals; for the 25th anniversary festival, attendance reportedly reached 10,000.

Sherrye Williams performs scenes from

Sherrye Williams performs scenes from “The Glass Menagerie” on the historic front porch where the U.S. Tennessee Williams postage stamp was unveiled in 1995 in Clarksdale, Miss. (Photo by Panny Flautt Mayfield)


Seven years after the start of the New Orleans festival, in 1993, Panny Mayfield launched the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival, held every fall in Clarksdale, Ms. A photographer and journalist, Mayfield had written about the links between Williams and the town where he spent much of his childhood. “At that time, there were residents here who grew up with Tom Williams,” Mayfield says. “His grandfather, the  Rev, Walter Dakin, was the popular rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church for 16 years. Tom, his mother and sister Rose lived in the church rectory here with his grandparents while Cornelius Williams (his father) worked as a traveling shoe salesman.” Invited to give a presentation at an International Tennessee Williams Festival in Nantes, France, Mayfield was encouraged by the scholars and directors there to start an annual festival in her town. Two years after its launch, “the U.S. Postal Service selected our festival as its site to unveil the Tennessee Williams postage stamp. The ceremony took place on the front porch of a turn-of-the-century house in Clarksdale’s historic district where Tom Williams spent his childhood.” Porches play a continuing role in the festival, which this year will be held on October 2 and 3; it will once again feature “porch plays” on four porches in the district.


TWFColumbusfestTshirtBrenda Caradine, a former actress who now runs a local bed and breakfast, was the driving force behind the Tennessee Williams Tribute & Tour of Victorian Homes in Columbus, Ms., which began in 2001. “When I moved to Columbus 18 years ago to marry my husband, there was no festival,” says Caradine, who looks shocked, albeit a shock filtered through high-energy Southern charm. “Columbus was Williams’ birthplace! He was baptized in my church!”

Among the activities at the Columbus festival, to be held this year from September 6 to 15, is another Stella shouting contest.

But the three festivals in the South, says Holditch (who was an advisor for all of them) largely have developed distinct identities:

“New Orleans has expanded to cover all sorts of aspects of the city’s history and culture,” he says, as well as a scholars conference and “master classes” on writing. (Nine of the events at New Orleans this year, or less than a fifth of the four-day festival, were labeled “theater offerings,” and only three of these were full productions or staged readings of complete Williams plays.)

“Columbus tends to be more social, with parties and tours of Victorian homes,” Holditch says. “Clarksdale is more devoted to scholarship and history and the relationship between Tennessee’s work and the Delta.”

Jennifer Steyn and Nicholas Dallas in

Jennifer Steyn and Nicholas Dallas in “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore” at Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. (Photo by Josh Andrus)


TennesseeWilliamsinProvincetownbookcoverIn 2006, a fourth festival was added to the mix, the Tennessee Williams Provincetown Festival. As co-founder and curator David Kaplan explains it, the town was finally going to build a new theater – the landmark Provincetown Playhouse had burned down in 1977 – and it wanted an annual festival to promote it. “Tennessee Williams was the fourth idea” for a festival, says Kaplan. If Williams was not the first choice, the playwright’s life and work held genuine interest. Kaplan, a theater director who has helmed Williams productions as far away as Russia and Hong Kong, published “Tennessee Williams in Provincetown” in 2007, which chronicles the four summers Williams spent in the resort town in the 1940s,   the two plays he set there (Something Cloudy, Something Clear and The Parade), and the plays he worked on there; it includes an interview with “the woman who lent him the typewriter on which he wrote The Glass Menagerie.”

The Provincetown organizers boast that theirs is the only one of the Williams festivals that is strictly a theater festival (albeit defining theater rather broadly to include “dance, music, opera, film, and performance art.”) The four-day event, held in September, attracts some 1,800 theatergoers. This year’s 10th anniversary festival, from September 24 to 27, which they are entitling “Year Tenn: Tennessee Williams in Provincetown,” will offer ten productions, including the remounting of hits from previous years, such as a South African production of The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, and a new musical from London, The Liberation of Colette Simple, based on a play Williams wrote in 1941, The Case of Crushed Petunias, that the festival presented in 2009.


New York

For the past three years in May or June, there also has been an annual Tennessee Williams Festival in New York City. “We always felt that it was sort of a disservice to one of our great dramatists that there was no festival for Tennessee Williams in the capital of the theater world,” says Joseph W. Rodriguez, the artistic director of the six-year-old Playhouse Creatures Theater Company, the East Village-based organizers of the festival, which has drawn an audience of a couple of hundred people to stage readings of Williams one-acts, and panel discussions with directors of Williams’ work (Emily Mann, Austin Pendleton) and with playwrights who admire him (such as Stephen Adly Guirgis.)

“I still remember reading Streetcar Named Desire in high school and it was the thing that turned me onto the theater,” Rodriguez says. “There was something so visceral and lyrical about it at the same time.”


The first annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis is scheduled for April, 2016.

“I have always strongly connected to Williams writing and consider him America’s, if not the world’s, greatest playwright,” says Carrie Houk, who is organizing the St. Louis festival. A casting director and former actress, she met Williams once (“I had the pleasure of dancing with him and talking about the home town.”) “I never understood why the city which influenced so much of his work, where he spent many formative years, never had an annual festival celebrating his work.” St. Louis is, of course, the setting for his first success, The Glass Menagerie, but it was an earlier, more obscure Williams play that spurred Houk to action.  Stairs to the Roof, subtitled A Prayer for the Wild of Heart That are Kept in Cages, is set largely in a shirt factory in St. Louis, and focuses on a poetry-writing factory worker who seeks to escape his dead-end job. In conjunction with her production of the play hooked to the celebration of the city’s  250th anniversary last year, Houk included both panel discussions and a bus tour of Williams landmarks in St. Louis – his various residences, the shoe factory where he worked, his grave. “I began to see the huge thirst that the city had for his work.”


Tennessee Williams John-Lahr-Book-CoverWhy are there so many Tennessee Williams festivals, yet no similar treatment for, say, Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller?

A couple of Williams experts hazard a guess.

Thomas Keith, a consulting editor at New Directions, Williams’s publisher, and a prolific panel organizer and moderator at several of the festivals: “With 35 full-length plays, over 75 one-act plays, as well as stories, poems, essays, screenplays, letters, journals, and novels, he left an enormous body of work for performance, exploration, and appraisal.”

John Lahr, author of the 2014 biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: “I guess the reason for the festivals has to do with the voluminous amount of Williams work and its variety: You can read poems, do scenes and plays — both full and one act. Then there’s the complex life. He also, in his way, was a pathfinder in gay liberation, so he speaks to the moment as well as the past.  His plays act well, which is also a reason to do them. I suppose, more than O’Neill and Miller, his work was vilified in his lifetime and the festivals are an attempt to right a great cultural wrong.”

Scene from Mr. Paradise, one of the Hotel Plays, New Orleans 2015

Scene from Mr. Paradise, one of the Hotel Plays, New Orleans 2015

Saving A Reputation?

“Death is the only thing that can possibly save my reputation,” the writer was saying in a seamy boarding house. A young woman had discovered his old book of poems in an antique store, placed under the short leg of a little Chinese tea-table in order to keep the table balanced. She tracked him down and now wants to resurrect his career (“I’ve written letters to influential people.”) He’ll have none of it.

Williams wrote this short played entitled Mister Paradise sometime after he first visited New Orleans in 1938; it was not unearthed until 2003. It was one of at least a dozen short plays of his that take place in boarding houses or hotels, four of which were performed at the New Orleans festival this year grouped together as The Hotel Plays. In another one of the four, The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, written in 1941, another bedraggled writer lashes out at his landlady in order to defend the honor of another boardinghouse resident, a woman who says she is a rubber plantation heiress but, as the landlady points out mockingly, is actually a prostitute. The landlady ridicules the writer as well, for claiming to be the author of a 780-page manuscript. In a tired voice, he replies with a long monologue:

“Suppose there is no 780 -page masterpiece in existence….Suppose I wanted to be a great artist but lacked the force and the power!…Suppose that I ornament, illuminate— glorify…with…impending Broadway productions….What satisfaction can it give you, good woman , to tear it to pieces, to crush it— call it a lie?”

TWFHermannGrimaHouseThere were layers of insight and irony in the production of The Hotel Plays, in the Hermann-Grima House, a mansion built in 1831 that is now a museum, around the corner from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. The audience members lined up to receive their tickets, which were room keys to what had been turned into a pretend hotel, each play performed in a different room.

Although the casts were from New Orleans – the same local actor, Robert Mitchell, portrayed both failed writers – The Hotel Plays were a production of the Provincetown festival, which has presented various selections of these plays over the years.

“From the very beginning, I thought it important to have synergy with the other festivals,” David Kaplan says. Collaborating on plays in which the playwright is concerned with a writer’s reputation seems especially apt. “The festivals all have a mission of reconsidering his reputation,” Kaplan says.

Has it worked? What effect have the Williams festivals had?

Kaplan divides Williams’ career into three periods – “the 19-year sojourn into respectable commercial theater,” as Kaplan puts it, and Williams work before and after his Broadway successes. “We have championed Williams’ entire body of work, but with particular emphasis on his later and more experimental writing,” says Jef Hall-Flavin , executive director of the Provincetown festival, which has premiered ten of Williams’s previously unproduced plays.

“All you heard was that these plays were un-performable, that they didn’t work,” says Kaplan, who believes the main reason for the dismissive attitude “was homophobia plain and simple.” If the times in general have made audiences more receptive to these dramas, “we showed that these plays work as plays.”

TWFgreetingIn New Orleans, there is a more active theater scene now than there was before the festival existed, but talk to artistic directors in the city, and some will attribute it to the rebuilding that has occurred after Hurricane Katrina.

“The Williams festival has not had an effect on theater in New Orleans so much as the theatrical community has had an effect on the Williams festival,” says Jim Fitzmorris,a teacher, critic and director. “It’s turned from a literary festival into a genuine, bona fide theatrical event in the last few years, because of the pressure from the new theatre companies.”

Even that is not necessarily a plus for the theatrical landscape of the city. “When a big event like the festival happens, it pushes everything else to the side,” says Gary Rucker, the artistic director of Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts. “We have to schedule our shows at a different time of year.”

Mia Wilson and Keir Dullea as Big Momma and Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Mia Wilson and Keir Dullea as Big Momma and Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Celebrating Tennessee Williams

TWFcardboardcutoutbTWFcakeThe “birthday bash,” on the day that Tennessee Williams would have turned 104, began at the Queen Anne Ballroom of the Hotel Monteleone with something less than reverence. An almost life-sized cardboard cutout of the playwright was propped up in the corner, adorned with Hawaiian leis. The evening of scenes began with a performance of a spot-on parody of Williams by Christopher Durang, For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls. But then Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon portrayed Big Daddy and Big Momma in a scene from Cat on A Hot Tin Roof; there were two scenes from The Glass Menagerie; one from Vieux Carre, and one from Sweet Bird of Youth, which is set in St. Cloud, Florida – the only one of the plays from the evening which is not set somewhere that plays host to an annual Tennessee Williams festival.

In the audience were prime movers from all of the festivals. One of the actors on stage (for the Sweet Bird of Youth scene), Aimée Hayes, is artistic director of Southern Rep, a New Orleans theater that has participated in the festival for the past six years, this year with a full production of Suddenly, Last Summer, starring Brenda Currin. Hayes thinks the New Orleans festival “does an amazing job of highlighting recent scholarship, activating conversations, and drawing parallels between Tenn’s work and current writers and playwrights.”Hayes, who herself played Blanche DuBois in the company’s 2012 Streetcar, sees New Orleans as an exact fit for such a festival: “In a town like New Orleans on the brink of sinking (literally) into the drink and a long history of carpe diem hedonism, Williams’s do-or-die stories resonate deeply as credo and anthem.”

But she also understands why the idea has spread: “Nobody quite gets to the guts of living more than Williams. He always seems to be daring us to live on just a little intuition, lots of desire and the pursuit of beauty. Who cares if death, destruction and utter ruin hound us at every turn? At least we’re really living…”

TWFstellacapLike the other Williams festival aficionados, Hayes welcomes the trend. “How many Shakespeare fests do we have? The Tenn fests are adjusting the ratio. Maybe we need more.”

This article appeared in slightly altered form in American Theatre Magazine.

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams and New Orleans 2015


This year’s American Theatre Critics Association conference is taking place in New Orleans, to coincide with the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, March 25 to 29.

It was in New Orleans where Tom Williams became Tennessee, after he moved there in 1939 at the age of 28. It was in a boardinghouse in New Orleans “where his literary adventure and his sexual coming-of-age” began, according to Tennessee Williams biographer John Lahr.

“The first six weeks he spent in New Orleans he wrote about in his plays for the rest of his life,” says Thomas Keith. “It was one of Williams’ favorite places in the world, where he found a tremendous amount of inspiration.” — “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Vieux Carre,”  and “Suddenly Last Summer” (which Southern Rep Theater is performing this year at the festival) are all set in New Orleans, as are several short stories and some dozen lesser known short plays.

Even when he moved to New York, Williams returned to the Big Easy many times. “I need a soft climate and softer people,” Williams wrote in his diary in 1945, before one such extended stay.

Keith, a New Yorker who teaches both at Pace and at The Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. is making his 14th annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the festival, which attracts thousands each year. He works at the festival: His duties this year include putting together and/or moderating readings and discussions involving cult filmmaker John Waters; playwrights John Patrick Shanley and Martin Sherman; actors Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon, and biographer Lahr. Keith will introduce the staged reading of a little-known Williams play “I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays” and he’ll oversee a conversation about the playwright’s critical reputation and popular image.

But, Keith says, he will find the time to be a festival-goer as well. “I’ll go to the scholar’s conference, and the weekend panels and the Thursday night birthday bash” — Williams was born on March 26, 1911 — and….”I don’t need to do everything.”




Tennessee Williams

Glass Menagerie. Drunken Romeo. Supreme Court Strippers. The State of Theater. The Week in New York Theater

WeekinNYTheaterendingSept29In a week that saw the opening of a much-praised Glass Menagerie on Broadway, a boozy and engaging if weirdly renamed Romeo and Juliet just three blocks down from the more turgid Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom, and a play using the transcript of an actual  Supreme Court case about strippers (see reviews below), there were three separate studies that gave a mixed view of the health and vitality of theater – or, more precisely, about the size of the audience for it.
The National Endowment for the Arts released “highlights” from its 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, finding that “theater attendance (musical and non-musical play-going) declined significantly since 2008”

NEA Survey graph 1

Americans for the Arts released both its annual National Arts Index and Local Arts Indexes that look at individual counties (Here’s the Local Arts Index for Manhattan.)

In its highlights page, it reports “overall, attendance at symphony and theatre increased in 2011 over 2010, while audiences for live opera and movies are getting smaller.” A closer look at the study shows that attendance in a variety of different kinds of theater (for example, non-profit professional theater nationwide, Broadway theaters in New York) has been fluctuating.

Broadway attendance chart from Arts Index

Finally, a study by Ticketmaster entitled State of Play surveys audiences primarily in the United Kingdom, finding that theater “is central to the cultural life of our nation” (with 63 percent of all surveyed saying they’ve seen at least one play in the past year) and the “likelihood to attend the theatre was highest amongst 16-19 year olds. Audiences have been growing proportionally younger for some time” — since 2009,  there has been a 71 percent increase among theatergoers  16 to 25 years old. (!) The study offers an ‘overwhelmingly positive picture” of theatergoing.

State of Play chart 1
Anybody willing to take the time (and who’s still reading after those three boring charts) can surely reconcile the studies’ various conclusions (different years measured, different cohort surveyed, different definition of theater, whatever.) In any case, the details are more interesting and surely more reliable. For example, according to the Arts Index, 59 percent of Manhattan residents attend live performing arts. Other cities:
Washington D.C.: 38 percent
Boston: 32 percent
Chicago: 31 percent
LA: 18 percent

We don’t need studies to see that New York theater is both vibrant and struggling. This is clear just from the news from the past week in New York theater alone. (See September 27 below, for problems facing the city’s arts groups.)

Also see below for answers to the following questions:

Does the Constitution protect stripping, and what court cases would make great plays or musicals?

Is actors’ job insecurity “stifling” or “a genuine spur to creativity”?

Should critics judge a show based on ticket price?

Who is the last to see Romeo alive, and where can you see a more original and engaging Romeo and Juliet than on Broadway?

Why do so many people compare Breaking Bad to Shakespeare?

The Week in New York Theater

Monday, September 23, 2013

Five New York theaters – the Cherry Lane, Clubbed Thumb Here Arts, New York Theater Workshop, Playwrights Horizons – are among the 29 to win the 50/50 Applause Award from the International Centre for Women Playwrights for a season of shows at least half of which were written by women playwrights.

NorbertLeoButzNorbert Leo Butz, now in Big Fish on Broadway, turned around his life after his sister was brutally murdered

DuleHillbefore Obama

He dressed a (fake) President in West Wing. Now Dule Hill, star of Pysch and of the forthcomign Broadway show After Midnight, sang to a few real presidents at the UN


Mary Bridget Davies ‏@marybdavies OK…. so WHEN CAN I SEE THIS SHOW?!?!?!?!

Most produced  plays in the United States in the coming season, according to American Theatre Magazine: Venus in Fur, followed by Clybourne Park, Good People, Other Desert Cities

Julie Haverkate ‏@CriticalConfab I was so upset with this list, I just missed my train stop trying to tweet about it. #sigh

UK debate: Is actors’ job insecurity “stifling” or “a genuine spur to creativity”?

Is job insecurity stifling, or a spur to creativity? Or is it Monday, so don’t ask?


Tonight  Chicago celebrates its 7,000th performance on Broadway — one of only three shows ever to do so. Quiz: What are the other 2?

Peg Caruso ‏@pegc4  Cats and Phantom…

Jonathan Mandell: I do think tonight’s 7,000th performance of Chicago is an achievement. How many things have you done 7,000 times?

Adam Gale ‏@ArgoTheatricals Asks the guy with 32,854 tweets.

Marin Orlosky ‏@marinorlosky Things I’ve done 7,000 times? Probably tendu, plie, brush my teeth, and trip over my own feet.

Jonathan Mandell: Most of which you probably shouldn’t celebrate

Marin Orlosky: True!

ArguendoPublic Theater/LuEsther Hall


Do strippers have a Constitutional right to dance nude? That was the question before the United State Supreme Court in  Barnes v Glen Theatre Inc et al — and it is the subject of the latest adventurous theater piece by the Elevator Repair Service,

Full review of Arguendo


TarellAlvinMcCraneyPlaywright Tarell Alvin McCraney, best-known for The Brother/Sister Plays, has won a MacArthur ‘Genius” Award ($625,000!) Complete list of 2013 MacArthur Fellowship winners, including New York choreographer Kyle Abraham and writer Donald Antrim


Diner, musical based on 1982 Barry Levinson movie, has new producers, says its composer Sheryl Crow, and is aiming to open on Broadway next year. “When I was 8 years old I wrote a letter to Gene Kelly because I was sure we were supposed to be together,” says Crow, who grew up in a family who “knew every show tune ever written.”


Seattle actors used to get cell phones with a New York City area code so Seattle theaters would call them back. No longer

Billy Flood @Bflood28 Sadly this is still so common in regional theater all over.


Life is a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise ~ George Gershwin, born on this date in 1898


Gwyneth Paltrow to co-produce Broadway musical based on the music of the 80′s rock band The GoGo’s. Book by Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q.)


Courtroom Dramas on Broadway: This season…and in the future

Old Friends has been extended again, to October 20

Nathan Lane, last on TV in The Good Wife and Modern Family, last on Broadway in The Nance, to star in TV pilot The Money, playing reporter

Bernadette Peters will stars in Sondheim/Wynton Marsalis collaboration A Bed and a Chair: A NY Love Affair, November 13-17, New York City Center.


My review of The Glass Menagerie

zacharyquinto2When we first see the Wingfield family together in the splendid production of “The Glass Menagerie” that has now opened on Broadway, Zachary Quinto is sitting at the dinner table holding his hands behind his back, as if in a straitjacket; all that’s missing is the gag — a precise physical representation of how his character Tom feels in the stifling, impoverished household of his family in St. Louis in the 1930′s.  Celia Keenan-Bolger sits with her back terribly straight, her hands primly in her lap, as if under the watchful eye of an ever-reprimanding schoolmaster, which is surely how her character Laura feels. And Cherry Jones gestures as if she is conducting an orchestra, the broad sweep of her arms showing a strong woman in command of her family. Only later does the thought occur: Her Amanda is using her hands this way to maintain her balance, to keep from falling down.

Even without Tennessee Williams’ words, this seventh production on Broadway of his first masterpiece brings home “the saddest play I’ve ever written,” as he called it

Full review of The Glass Menagerie

Thirty years after his death.Tennessee Williams is hot — including his experimental plays.


New York City Opera may declare bankruptcy. Some fear this is a harbinger for other NYC arts groups, which are endangered because audiences have more options, donors have shifted priorities, and real estate costs have rise. “The nonprofit funding model is broken,” says Catherine Peila of Dance New Amsterdam, which is shuttering its downtown Manhattan headquarters.

Michael epps ‏@michael_epps Scary to think of New York, without the Ballet and Opera.

Gina Ferranti ‏@GinaNYactress  This, sadly, has been a long time coming. I don’t know how NYC art comes back from all this


Broadway on the Hudson lunchtime concert: Videos of performances from Annie, Chicago, Cinderella, Newsies, Phantom of the Opera, Pippin, Rock of Ages, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark

Reopening tonight (this time in the theater district): Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812

When I grow up

I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight

beneath the bed each night

to be a grown-up

(Listening to the just-released Matilda Broadway cast album)

Annabelle Kline ‏@annabellekline Oh, that’s what they are saying!

Should Critics Judge A Show Based On Ticket Price?

Peter Marks, theater critic for the Washington Post (@Petermarksdrama): I never put in monetary terms the value of enjoyment in reviews. Maybe I should try…as in, “at $40, this is great. At $65, okay. At $92.50 skip it.” Bet readers would like.

Drew Lichtenberg ‏@DrewLichtenberg  But how do you judge? What’s “worth” 100 bucks to one person is worth nothing to another. Audiences not monolithic.

Peter Marks: Ah the essential critical conundrum. Who am I to judge re art or money? Why not throw cost into mix? Asking question here.

Robert O. Simonson ‏@RobertOSimonson: I would say an adamant yes! This is elephant in room of every review. Is play, however good, worth the $$?
Linda Essig ‏@LindaInPhoenix “it’s worth your time and money” is way different than “it’s worth $37.50” My $30 tickets mean something different to a struggling student or a millionaire.
Jonathan Mandell: Exactly. I’m not sure we can judge a proper price. Also, different theatergoers can get their tickets at different prices. (young, union etc) It’s worth focusing on price if extreme — way too high,or really cheap. Making ticket price a factor in our reviews MIGHT eventually force theaters to price more reasonably.
Terry Teachout , theater critic for the Wall Street Journal (@terryteachout): I always list ticket prices and (sometimes) say I wouldn’t have paid that much to see the show.
Jason Zinoman, theater critic for the New York Times (@zinoman): I confess I’ve never done that. Never even thought about it. Maybe it’s a mistake.


“Theater’s my jam. If I could make a living just doing theater, I feel like I really might”~Zachary Quinto, now in Glass Menagerie.

Survey of out LGBT performers by SAG-AFTRA: Half say producers still find them less “marketable”; 16 percent experienced discrimination.


My review of R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match

RJ2Nick Mills & Suzy Jane Hunt Photo by Lloyd MulveyOrlando Bloom, park your motorcycle, and walk three blocks to a bar that used to be called Harley’s, where there is a weird, well-acted, fun, immersive, boozy bro party production of Shakespeare’s tragedy that is, in several ways, more engaging and far more original than your Romeo and Juliet on Broadway – with a ticket price of ten dollars.

That the Off-Off Broadway Romeo and Juliet is so good may come as a shock to those put off by its absurdly reworked title,R+J: Star-Cross’d Death Match, or by the name of the theater company, Three Day Hangover, or by the first 15 minutes of the show, which consists of drinking games, accompanied by pounding house music

Full review of R+J

Elizabeth ‏@studio_gal Awake = O comfortable Friar. Alive = Romeo
Marcia Clark ‏@ShamelessPromo Romeo
Cindy Marie Jenkins ‏@cindymariej Friar Lawrence
Laura ‏@LauraBethD Based on what I know, Romeo. When he kills himself, she is still alive…
Howard Sherman ‏@HESherman I say it’s a trick question, and the answer is: the audience!
Answer: Romeo or The Friar (they accept either answer)


“The greatest risk to man is not that he aims too high and misses, but that he aims too low and hits.”-Michelangelo


“It is harder to get a play done anywhere than it was when I started in the early 60s.”~Terrence McNally, who has two coming up in New York.  “I don’t want to write a play unless it scares me.”

Celebrity May Be Hazardous


Breaking Bad and Shakespeare

Why do so many writers compare Breaking Bad to Shakespeare?

Lonnie Firestone @LonnieFirestone Every great drama series at some point gets compared to Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, or Dickens. Literature lives through TV?

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof Review: Scarlett Johansson As Maggie The Kitten

Benjamin Walker and Scarlett Johansson in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Benjamin Walker and Scarlett Johansson in “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”

“Cat On A Hat Tin Roof” with Scarlett Johansson and Benjamin Walker could not possibly be so dull, I said during the first intermission; I just must be tired. The couple next to us left during the second intermission, but they must have had a problem with their babysitter.

I had been looking forward to this, the sixth Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ scorching family drama set in the high-ceilinged home of the biggest plantation in the Mississippi Delta. It had seemed an inspired pairing – she, the talented movie star who had proven her stage chops with her Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s “A View From The Bridge”; he the Southern-born son-in-law of Meryl Streep whose performance on stage in “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” was so sexy that it was the centerpiece of the show’s marketing campaign; the Bloody, Bloody logo was a close-up of Benjamin Walker’s butt. Johansson and Walker certainly look great together in the still photographs.

Yet something fails to connect from the very first scene – from Maggie’s very first line:
“One of those no-neck monsters hit me with a hot buttered biscuit, so I have to change.”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof<br /><br /> Richard Rodgers TheatreMaggie is the cat – catty towards her in-laws ; in heat; feral in her instinct for survival. She lobbies her sulking drunken hulk of a husband to have the sex he has sworn off, so that she can produce offspring and thus not be disinherited by Brick’s dying father, Big Daddy, in favor of Brick’s brother Gooper and his annoyingly fertile wife Mae. (The “no-neck monsters” are Mae’s five children.) But here Johansson plays Maggie not as a feral cat but a graceful feline. Her face is pretty, her outfit is pretty, her pearls are pretty, her Southern accent is pretty — and pretty unpersuasive. Her demeanor seems nearly serene and her delivery demure, almost child-like. She could be playing with dolls.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof<br /><br /><br /> Richard Rodgers TheatreI have been a fan of Johansson’s for ten years, ever since I saw her when she was 18 and unknown (at least to me) in “The Girl With A Pearl Earring.” How she could get this latest role  so wrong is just a bafflement to me.

And Brick, who is supposed to be trying unsuccessfully to ignore his wife’s pleas and needling and seductions by drinking himself into oblivion, doesn’t seem to need alcohol in this scene: Walker is barely present. (I suppose this is a pun, since he wears nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist and a cast on his leg.)

Both become more animated later on, or at least louder, but the damage has been done.

Now, Walker’s initial affect is realistic for the character, a former football star who has become a numbed-out drunk since the death of his best friend Skipper. It’s just not all that interesting when little seems going on beneath the surface. The production suffers from comparison to the Brick of the Cat on Broadway just five years ago. Terrence Howard took his cue from the script that Brick kept on drinking in hopes of reaching “the click” of total insensibility – but that during the course of the play, which unfolds in real time on Big Daddy’s 65th birthday, Brick hadn’t reached that state yet. In the meantime Howard theatrically expressed his inebriation, disgust and even amusement.

NewmanTaylorinCatfilmThe current production suffers in comparison with more than just the 2008 Broadway revival. Those people who know “Cat” only from the 1958 movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman are at something of a disadvantage. The performances are so indelible – and so easily available from Netflix or the local library or the occasional showing on TV – that it is difficult to tolerate a production where the actors offer a different interpretation… much less when they seem less alive.
On the other hand, the screenplay by Richard Brooks and James Poe scrubbed Williams’ play clean of all references to homosexuality, wiping out a context that gives the story more clarity and greater force. Though not explicit by today’s standards, there is more in the text than I had remembered: Big Daddy was originally the foreman on the plantation, which was owned at that time by two men who shared a big bed – the same bed that Brick now refuses to share with Maggie. Brick feels nothing but disgust for that long-gone male couple. Whether or not he doth protest too much, it is clear that everybody else viewed his great friendship with Skipper as suspect – including Skipper.

Perhaps this is the reason why director Rob Ashford initially created a character Ghost Skipper who haunted their bedroom – an invention that was roundly ridiculed and resisted, and had been eliminated by the time I saw the production.

Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy and Debra Monk as Big Mama in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy and Debra Monk as Big Mama in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

You surely don’t need to hire an actor to play Ghost Skipper, but it is smart to understand that Skipper hangs over the characters, his invisible presence offering clues to their personalities. Indeed, Big Daddy’s attitude towards him is a revelation, and gives the blustery plantation owner more complexity than simply a human blunt-force instrument. The Irish actor Ciaran Hinds probably comes off best in the entire 17-member cast, thanks to his intensity and his relative engagement, as well as the least grating Southern accent. But I didn’t catch what should be a startling shift in our perception of his character. (Debra Monk, so wonderful in everything from Company to Curtains on Broadway, here gets to yell in a fake Southern accent like everybody else, but she hardly registers as Big Mama.)

If you need proof that Tennessee Williams’ discreet gay subtext helps keep this play from being dated, one need only consider the mixed reaction to the speech just last week at the Golden Globes by actress and director Jodie Foster, born in the decade after “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,” who came out as a lesbian, clearly but obliquely, ambivalently.
Done right, “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” stays vibrant because it works theatrically, presenting what Williams explains in a stage direction as the “cloudy, flickering, evanescent — fiercely charged! — interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis.” In the current production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on Broadway, everybody just seems under the weather.

Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Richard Rodgers Theater
Directed by Rob Ashford
Scenic design by Christopher Oram, costume design by Julie Weiss, lighting design by Neil Austin, composer and sound design by Adam Cork.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson,
Ciarán Hinds,
Benjamin Walker,
Debra Monk,
Emily Bergl,
Michael Park, 
Vin Knight, 
Brian Reddy,
Will Cobbs,
Tanya Birl,
Jordan Dean,
Lance Roberts,
Cherene Snow,
Laurel Griggs, Victoria Leigh,
Charlotte Rose, Masi
George Porteous,
Noah Unger
Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with two ten-minute intermissions
Ticket prices: $75.75 – $152.25
“Tennessee Williams’ Cat on A Hot Tin Roof” is scheduled to run until March 30, 2013