by JK Clarke
One gathers from old footage of Tennessee Williams that he was a rather affable character. Always a kind smile, a twinkle in his eye and pleasant words for his interviewer. True, he wrote about complicated people with confrontational lives, but he rarely became attached enough to people for that level of intrigue, at least to hear him tell it in “En Avant! An Evening with Tennessee Williams,” now playing at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Education Center’s Kabayitos as part of the Fringe Festival.
William Shuman, who wrote and performs the piece, brings us a Williams, now deceased, who has come back to speak to us about his life. With the backdrop of a little Ragtime here and little Dixieland there, seated in a large wicker chair, dressed in white, with a glass brandy or possibly bourbon in his hand and frequently giggling at his own jokes, he tells us of his illness plagued youth, his family, his love for writing, his success and his love affairs (and is open and frank about his sexuality). This is the Williams as he would want us to know him, for there were certainly tempestuous relationships and an ongoing struggle with alcohol and drug abuse. This is not a deep exploration of how his great works came to be — though he does discount the notion that his characters are merely family members re-translated. Rather, it’s an portrayal of the man, his life and his triumuphs. At times, he is revealingly frank: of Lana Turner he says dismissively, “she couldn’t act her way out of a celluloid bra!”
En Avant is a pleasant way to absorb a biography of Williams. Shuman paints him lovingly as a genteel southern scribe with whom we’d quite gladly have a drink and a long discussion.
En Avant! An Evening With Tennessee Williams. Fringe Festival. At the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Education Center’s Kabayitos (107 Suffolk Street). Remaining performances: August 20 (4:45 PM), August 23 (7:15 PM) and August 24 (2:00 PM). www.fringenyc.com orhttp://thetennesseewilliamsexperience.com