NY Theater Review by Eric J. Grimm
Writer and actor William Shuman’s En Avant! An Evening with Tennessee Williams, now playing at Stage 72 at the Triad, features the popular playwright posthumously recounting his rise from poor Southern boy to celebrated American playwright. Shuman’s attention to detail and fondness for the material are clear throughout the production and are to be commended, though he plays it safe with the troubled and flamboyant writer, hesitating to move beyond Williams’ fragility.
Williams spends the length of the play leisurely recalling various romances, his relationship with his dysfunctional family, and his early success, all while taking frequent pauses to refill his drink. Shuman is pleasant as the playwright, giving him a wearied, grandfatherly personality that lends well to storytelling. He seems genuine in his recollection of Williams’ warmer memories. His delivery, however, does not suggest any volatility on Williams’ part, which makes it difficult to reconcile with Williams’ crippling depression and drug abuse.
Early on, Williams suggests that his memory bounces around quite a bit, leading to nonlinear storytelling. This admission seems like a jumping off point for what this biographical play could have been. Given Williams’ heavy drinking throughout the show, it would seem appropriate to have him be an unreliable narrator, keeping the audience guessing as to the veracity of his claims. He hints at this when suggesting an ambiguity as to the origin of his name and whether or not his family directly inspired the creation of his characters. Shuman chooses to try to definitively answer these questions, making the show feel like a live reading of an autobiography. A more adventurous take on Williams’ life might have worked better for the stage.
En Avant! is playing at Stage 72 at the Triad (158 W. 72nd St.) from August 12-September 2. For reservations call 1-800-838-3006.