August 25, 2013 11:33:10 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
It's Christmas Eve in Nashville, 1960, but the mood is anything but merry for George Haverstick and Ralph Bates and their wives. George and his brand new bride, Isabel, are fast discovering they have very different expectations of marriage. Ralph and Dorothea, married for several years, are on the verge of divorce. Both squabbling couples are going through a "Period of Adjustment."
That's what Tennessee Williams named his "serious comedy," which opened on Broadway in 1960 and was adapted to film in 1962. The 12th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes presents the production Sept. 3, 4, 6 and 7 in Whitfield Hall's Rent Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus. It is one of many highlights of the six-day Tribute set for Sept. 3-8 in Columbus, where Williams was born March 26, 1911.
The Tribute mounts one of the repeat Pulitzer Prize-winning writer's plays annually.
"We offer a play every year because Tennessee Williams was and still is 'America's greatest playwright,'" said Tribute founder and chair Brenda Caradine.
He is one of play director Paula Mabry's favorite wordsmiths.
"I feel especially honored to direct another one of his plays," said Mabry of Starkville, who previously directed the Tribute's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Night of the Iguana." "It's also a joy for me to work on the Whitfield (Rent) stage because that's where my theater training began when I was a W student."
Not the usual fare
"Period of Adjustment" marks a change of pace for Williams, one of the most provocative Southern writers of the 20th century. Gone is the usual assortment of psychologically damaged characters and dark undercurrents. The Columbus-born playwright and poet, in fact, created the play partly in response to a drama critic who once wrote that Williams couldn't pen lighter fare. With the gauntlet thrown, the playwright responded with his "serious comedy."
Mabry observed, "In a comedy, everything has to work out right, but the word 'serious' means there are definite conflicts before the conclusion. Tennessee Williams uses his vivid language to paint ironic pictures. There is much depth to the dialogue, although humor shines throughout."
For Caradine, rehearsals even bring to mind vintage TV sitcoms like "The Honeymooners" or "I Love Lucy."
The cast hails from Columbus and includes Laura Beth Berry, Sid Caradine, Gwin Edie, Jimmy Garton, Melanie Hintz, Daniel Talley, Shane Tubbs and Barbara Vaughn. And a friendly terrier named Fatty, belonging to Shane and Melissa Tubbs, makes her stage debut.
Mabry praised the actors and crew for their dedication to the project.
"Each one has a busy life but finds the time to give their talent; they realize it's a part of history to be part of this Columbus native's plays."
Sid Caradine, Brenda Caradine's husband, portrays Mr. McGillicuddy, the irascible father-in-law of Ralph Bates.
"I've not been on stage for 25 years, so it's a wonderful challenge, but I really enjoy playing a grumpy old man; that's kinda fun. That's not generally me -- except when it comes to politics," joked Mr. Caradine, who once co-chaired the Gatlinburg Arts Council and chaired the Sevier County Theatre Guild.
Gwin Edie -- Mrs. McGillicudy -- is fully invested in playing what she describes as a "completely imperious, hoity-toity witch, with a capital "B." "It's just a real pleasure to be chosen to be part of this cast," she said.
Both have marveled at the development of the characters and set as rehearsals progress.
"Paula (Mabry) is a major force in theater, and she has so many talented people behind the scenes who are going to make this look good and be good," said Sid Caradine.
Williams wrote explicit directions for the play's set, costumes and props; the Tribute production crew is working hard to replicate his ideas. It includes set builders Claude Simpson and Ed Moody, wardrobe mistress Kay Manzolillo, and lighting and sound designer Bronwyn Teague. Cherri Golden and Rachel Guerry are assisting with props. Melissa Duncan is assistant director.
How to go
General admission tickets are $15 each, $10 for seniors and military personnel. MUW students and faculty with ID are admitted free. Purchase tickets in advance at the Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St., or at the door.
More to do
Tribute events (many of them free) are ongoing from Sept. 3-8. They include an evening of song from Provincetown, Mass. Players' vocalists and musicians, scholars talks, "Breakfast with the Scholars," a "Stella" shouting contest, an elegant luncheon in an historic home, a free Saturday at the Movies, double decker bus tour, a display of movie and play memorabilia at the Columbus Library, a special Sunday sermon and a Victorian Home tour with a twist.
See all the events at muw.edu/tennesseewilliams or pick up a brochure at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center at 300 Main St. and many area businesses. Or call 662-328-0222 for more information.
The Welcome Center, which was originally the rectory of Columbus' St. Paul's Episcopal Church and the first home of Tennessee Williams, receives 10,000 or more visitors yearly, bringing revenue to restaurants, hotels, gas stations and B&Bs, Caradine said.
"How lucky Columbus is that he was born here! It gives our town an international tourism spotlight, not just during the Tribute, but all year long."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.