Jacob Storms, winner of the 2017 United Solo Award for Best One-Man Show, has returned in his Tennessee Rising: The Dawn of Tennessee Williams, a depiction of the young playwright’s life leading up to his overnight fame with The Glass Menagerie in 1945. As the author, Storms exudes charm and has great stage presence, keeping us engrossed for 75 minutes. Though he doesn’t look much like Williams and his Southern accent is much lighter than that of Williams, he does suggest the playwright in his mannerisms and cadence.
Director Alan Cumming (Cabaret, Macbeth, Design for Living) has well-paced the show which occurs in various vignettes covering the years 1939 – 45, as well as making full use of the small stage and the various props (two metal chairs, Corona typewriter, Jack Daniels whiskey bottle, windup Victrola.) The script by Storms travels from place to place (New Orleans, Los Angeles, Taos, Key West, Provincetown, Chicago, and, of course, New York) and each scene makes use of a different part of the stage.
The charismatic Storms includes the audience by appearing to address various people and his self-deprecating attitude is quite endearing. The anecdotes reveal the sources of many of his future plays and we meet the real Laura and Amanda (The Glass Menagerie) and Big Daddy and Big Mama from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as well as his New Orleans Landlady (Vieux Carré) and his Provincetown lover Kip from Something Cloudy, Something Clear. We also learn about the stages that led to his first big success: winning the Group Theatre Award, receiving the Rockefeller Foundation grant, the Theatre Guild’s abortive production of his Battle of Angels, and acclaimed triumph with Laurette Taylor and Eddie Dowling in The Glass Menagerie.
While the chronology is somewhat convoluted as the text occasionally skips around grouping some similar events (such as two trips to New York City), if you follow along, the script depicts Williams’ steady rise to success in the six years before Menagerie landed on Broadway. Many of the anecdotes are amusing, others are surprising tales of little known facts (a trip to Europe with his grandfather, meeting D. H. Lawrence’s widow on a trip to Taos, New Mexico.) Always engrossing, always believable, Tennessee Rising: The Dawn of Tennessee Williams accomplishes in spades what it sets out to do: revealing the trials and tribulations of a great playwright on the verge of his first success.
Performed in the outdoor courtyard theater at the cell, an earlier version of Tennessee Williams received the United Solo Award for Best One-Man-Show at the 2017 United Solo Festival in New York and headlined the 2018 Tennessee Williams Festival in St. Louis. The current version was slated to appear at the Beaubourg Theatre in New Orleans but was canceled due to Covid. The New York production runs Sundays (except May 30) through June 27.
Tennessee Rising: The Dawn of Tennessee Williams (Sundays through June 27, 2021 except for May 30)
the cell theatre, 338 W. 23rd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues
For tickets, visit http://www.SpinCycleNYC.com
Running time: 75 minutes