August 25, 2012 9:13:01 PM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
"It's like watching a plant grow," said first-time thespian Holly Jeter Tuesday night at play rehearsal. He'd shed the starched shirt and suspenders he wears on stage as "the doctor" in "The Rose Tattoo" and was back in T-shirt and shorts after a run-through of his brief scene. He stood among the empty seats in a darkened Rent Auditorium, watching cast mates under bright stage lights mine the rich dialogue Tennessee Williams penned more than 60 years ago.
Seeing the characters and story take shape, bit by bit, practice by practice, captivates him.
"All these people ... it means something, keeping it alive ... " he said quietly, perhaps unknowingly zeroing in on the essence of what brings everyone in the cast and crew back night after night.
The empty seats will soon hold audiences, when the 11th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes in Columbus presents "The Rose Tattoo" Sept. 4, 5, 7 and 8. The play is part of a five-day Tribute filled with scholars' talks, music, poetry, movies, luncheons, tours, a "Stella" Shouting Contest and Streetcar 5K Run -- and even a Sunday sermon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, inspired by themes in "The Rose Tattoo."
It's all in tribute to the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and poet who was born in Columbus March 26, 1911, and went on to leave an indelible legacy on the world of stage and screen.
"The Tribute presents a Tennessee Williams play each year in order to entertain and educate; it's very important to us," said Brenda Caradine, founder and chair of the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes committee. "We want to introduce everyone to this valued citizen who was born in this town and brings the attention of people from all over the world to Columbus."
Of love and angst
"The Rose Tattoo" was first produced on Broadway in 1951, starring Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach. It swept the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actor and Best Actress. A film adaptation starring Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster was released in 1954 (and will be screened Sept. 8 at 1:15 p.m. in MUW's Nissan Auditorium.)
"This is one of Williams' lesser-produced plays, but is a very historically-significant one. Being able to see this is a rare opportunity," said director Melanie Hintz. Hintz is no stranger to Williams' work, having played the female lead in the 2011 Tribute's "The Night of the Iguana."
The story Hintz describes as a tragicomedy focuses on an Italian-American widow -- Serafina Delle Rose -- who has withdrawn from the world after her husband's death, and expects her daughter to do the same.
Serafina is played by Cherri Golden of Columbus.
"She is just completely over the top, so in love with her dead husband, and I'm just thrilled to be able to play her," expressed Golden, who is taking on her most substantial role to date. "Tennessee Williams seems to understand women's emotions so well."
The playwright's characters are often marked by angst and tragedy.
"Usually Tennessee Williams' women don't fare very well, but Serafina comes out alright; this is an uplifting play with some hilarious moments," smiled Golden.
To give Serafina her Italian accent, the actress tapped into her past.
"I'm grateful I grew up in an era of Sophia Loren movies because I channel that, with a little bit of 'Saturday Night Live's' Father Guido Sarducci thrown in," she laughed, down-playing the intense study she has put into developing her Sicilian immigrant's character.
Hintz actually once lived in Italy and can lend a linguistic hand to Golden and the play's male lead, Daniel Talley. As Alvaro, he emerges as Serafina's love interest.
"In this, I'm a truck driver who's having a very bad day and happens to meet someone he sees as his salvation," grinned Talley, a New Hope Middle School English teacher. He hopes his acting might inspire younger generations to give it a try. In fact, one of his former students is involved in the production.
"It's important as a teacher to model (participation). It's one thing if I say it, but when you see your teacher doing it, it has a much greater impact," he said.
As opening night approaches, the hard-working cast and crew focus on getting into the skin of their characters, eager to bring the story to the stage.
"It really, truly is literature come to life," said Hintz. "And something in theater I love is the unexpected element. It's being in front of a live audience, the energy that audience brings. Every single time you walk on the stage it's going to be different in some way."
How to go
Tickets to the play are $15 ($10 for seniors and military personnel). Students may attend free with ID. The play may not be appropriate for students under 13.
Performances at Rent Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus in Columbus are at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4, 5 and 8; and at 8 p.m. Sept. 7.
Other TWT highlights
The Tribute offers much more. Throughout the week, scholars Dr. Kenneth Holditch, Dr. Stuart Noel and Dr. Colby Kullman will bring their expertise to discussions of Williams' work.
Holditch, founding scholar of the Tribute, will be presented its first annual Tennessee Williams Scholars Medal at an elegant luncheon at Errolton Sept. 7. He is also the featured speaker at a free Table Talk at noon Sept. 5 at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. It's free to the public.
Songs and soul food
Tony-award nominee Allison Fraser and classically-trained pianist Allison Leyton-Brown present "The Tennessee Williams Songbook" at a Moon Lake Party Sept. 6 at the Columbus Country Club. The professional artists will be joined by area musicians Chris Fowlkes, Stephanie Jackson and Shondaleria Williams. Tickets are $50.
A playful homage to two of Tennessee Williams' most well-known characters -- Stella and Stanley from "Streetcar Named Desire" -- is the "Stella" Shouting Contest Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. Contestants shout to "Stella" on the balcony of Holly Hocks Gift Shop in downtown Columbus in hopes of winning the coveted trophy, plus dinner and a carriage ride to "The Rose Tattoo." Register by calling 662-329-0025.
Tour of Homes
The Tribute concludes Sept 9 with the sermon at St. Paul's and poetry readings at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, followed by tours of some of Columbus' Victorian gems.
Griffin Eyrie, the 1872 Victorian home of Col. (Ret.) and Mrs. Harold Bullock at 501 Fifth Ave. S., will open its doors to the public for the first time.
The circa 1890 home of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Kacho at 723 Sixth Ave. N. will also welcome visitors, as will the recently-restored 1875 childhood home of Tennessee Williams, at 300 Main St.
And there's more. See the "What's Free at the TWT" sidebar above and visit muw.edu/tennesseewilliams for a complete schedule of events, locations, times and tickets, where applicable. Tickets may be purchased at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., Columbus, or online at columbu-arts.com.
Call 662-328-0222 or 800-327-2686 for more information.
WHAT'S FREE AT THE TWT
Sept 4, 5, 7, 8 - For students with ID, "The Rose Tattoo," Rent Auditorium
Sept. 5 - Table Talk with Dr. Kenneth Holditch, Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. (Bring brown bag lunch at 11:30 a.m., or come for the program at noon. Iced tea provided.)
Sept. 7 - Breakfast with the Scholars, MUW Puckett House, 8:30-9:30 a.m.
Sept. 7 - Double decker bus tours of significant Tennessee Williams sites, 10 a.m.-noon.
Sept. 7 - "Stella" Shouting Contest, Holly Hocks Gift Shop, 204 Fifth St. S., Columbus, 5 p.m. (Call 662-329-0025 to register.)
Sept. 8 - "Saturday at the Movies": "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" and "The Rose Tattoo," MUW's Nissan Auditorium, beginning at 9 a.m. (Box lunch available, $10.)
Sept. 9 - Sermon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 318 College St., based on "The Rose Tattoo," 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. (continental breakfast at 7:30 a.m.).
Sept. 9 - "Of Roses" & Other Poems," readings of Williams' poems, accompanied by music and dance, 1:30 p.m., Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
September-October - Exhibit of Tennessee Williams memorabilia at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.