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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Suddenly, This Summer: An Evening with Tennessee Williams

It seems a rainy, humid night in NYC might be the way to welcome William Shuman as Tennessee Williams in Shuman's En Avant!, providing the appropriately hothouse, stormy ambiance outside.

Tennessee is seated in a rattan Queen Anne chair, rising occasionally for a drink, with the play set in the present between here and heaven (so the playbill informs us). Incredibly patched together from interviews and verbatim words from the playwright, its script (written by the actor) was approved by the Williams Family Estate. It showcases Shuman's nimble talent as a monologist beautifully.

With his endless glasses of bourbon, Shuman commands the stage in his bold characterization of one of America's great literary figures of the 20th Century (nicely directed by Vidya Foley). At turns amusing and tragic but largely droll throughout, En Avant! is a captivating portrait that, without intermission, clocks in somewhere just over an hour without a dramatic lull.

The play is a 2013 NYC International Fringe Festival winner for Overall Excellence Award for Solo Performance. Shuman's Williams reminisces about the character's joys and pains with family members and lovers. He dishes about his brief time at MGM, writing a script for Lana Turner and working in theater with Laurette Taylor on his breakthrough hit, The Glass Menagerie and with Jessica Tandy and Brando on A Streetcar Named Desire.

I thought the show could have had more symmetry as the latter, lesser part of Williams' career is given rather short shrift. For example, I would love to have heard backstage stories of his working with Bette Davis (in Broadway's Night of the Iguana) and Tallulah. A slightly expanded length is certainly something we wouldn't have minded because spending time with this Tennessee in New York is indeed a treat.

En Avant! plays Tuesdays at Stage 72 at the Triad, 158 West 72nd Street, NYC through September 2. Seats are $30. Thanks to publicist Richard Skipper (RichardSkipper.com) for bringing En Avant! to our attention.

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