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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Thursday, July 30, 2009

INTERVIEW | Steve Lawson, writer and director of BLANCHE AND BEYOND

As the staged reading of Blanche and Beyond nears, I wanted to know more about it, so I grabbed an opportunity to talk with Steve Lawson, writer and director.

Sarah Slight: What made you want to create these two works surrounding Tennessee Williams' life and writing? What draws you to him as a writer and as a person?

Steve Lawson: I'd met him twice in Williamstown - 1979 and 1982 - and years later read a just-published volume of his correspondence. It struck me that the letters would make a powerful theatrical piece. The Williams Estate gave me permission to adapt them, and the success of the first play led to a sequel.

I've always thought that no other American playwright has consistently written so wonderfully for actors. For all the tumult of his later years, he was a very funny man - and many of the letters capture that. Like his plays - and like the man himself - the letters are an amazing blend of rollicking humor, darkness, and raunchiness.

SS: Are
Blanche and Distant Country part of a larger series? (If not, any plans to do another?)

SL: Richard Thomas and I have been hoping that Al Devlin, who edited these first two volumes of correspondence, would tackle Tennessee's last years in a third collection. Right now, it's looking good. How great if someday, somewhere we could then do all three shows in one day - talk about a marathon!

SS: 1982 was near the end of his life--how much was Tennesse Williams around for
Celebration? What was his response? What was it like to be around him?

SL: Tennessee was in residence for the entire three-week rehearsal period. I was lucky enough to be part of the creative team that put the two-night, six-hour production together, so got to work hands-on with him. He'd become a fan of WTF and then artistic director Nikos Psacharopulos after seeing
Camino Real, which he stated publicly was the best version of the play he'd ever seen.

And he loved the
Celebration. He'd stopped drinking by that time so was incredibly focused and funnier than ever. One night a bunch of us were talking with him, and he asked if we wanted to know his favorite four-letter word. Well, sure we did. He leaned in and intoned, very slowly: "W-O-R-K." And he meant it! He was just chock-full of life, which is why it was so shocking to lose him just seven months later.

SS: Is there anything else you want to us to know about the play and the project before we go see it?

SL: The built-in advantage of this piece is that - unlike
Distant Country, which dealt with Tennessee's obscure younger years before anyone had heard of him - Blanche and Beyond covers the time span of what we think of as his greatest achievements. It's the period of Streetcar, Rose Tattoo, Camino, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with letters to people like Elia Kazan, Gore Vidal, and Jessica Tandy - even New York drama critics. (Imagine that happening today.) So I think the audience will relish the roller-coaster ride of a famous man trying to hold on to his success and his art in the face of intense pressures - some external, some engendered within himself - interpreted by an outstanding actor. And to fill in any gaps, Richard and I will be doing a Q-&-A right after the show, and there are always a lot of questions.

By Literary Associate, Sarah Slight

[photo] T. Charles Erickson
[pictured] Steve Lawson, Richard Thomas

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