Tennessee Williams might easily be remembered as the greatest American playwright of the 20th century. His characters are beautifully spoken poetic beings, the sort who utter great truths even as they fly into the flames of their own destruction. Williams was a bit like his characters. He was the sort of man who made such profoundly astute declarations as "happiness is insensitivity," and "life is sometimes better when it's boring; theater isn't." These types of utterances alone might want to spend an evening watching Confessions of a Nightingale. The Charlotte Chandler and Ray Stricklin play is based on Chandler's conversations with Williams.
Although The Little Room Downstairs Theater's production of the one-character play is sometimes slow and painfully awkward, the writing is strong enough to make the night worthwhile, especially for those even a little bit in love with Williams's work.
No topic is sacred. Chandler's script covers everything from Williams's work to his sexuality, his Hollywood years, his family.
About his plays we learn that "The Glass Menagerie was originally written as a screenplay," and that he liked to "speak the words" out loud as he wrote.
D.H. Lawrence, Chekhov and Hart Crane were his literary idols. His mother, "Miss Edwina," was like a Prussian general, and his beloved sister Rose was a "pioneer in the lobotomy operation."
We get a good dose of gossip about Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo and Lana Turner, and we learn about Williams's first love, "green eyes," and his one great love, Frank, who died in 1960 of lung cancer.
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But more than the many terrific little facts about Williams, this play manages to capture some of the ever-present poetic cadence in Williams's plays. Who else but Williams could come up with such melancholy observations as "life is but one long story that has to have a sad ending."
Time will hopefully smooth some of the rough edges for this production. As Williams, R.J. Soule often seems uncomfortable, even shaky, with his proximity to the audience. And he sometimes stumbles over lines in his two-hour monologue. Under the direction of Marcy Bannor, however, Soule captures a languid, wry bemusement that is so much a part of Williams's work.
This is a slow, edifying sort of theatrical experience. It's a bit like eating Sunday morning porridge: not thrilling, but quite good for the brain.
Confessions of a Nightingale runs through April 24 at The Little Room Downstairs Theater, 2326 Bissonnet. (713)523-0791. $15.