In celebration of Tennessee Williams' centennial year, Westport Country Playhouse will stage a special performance by acclaimed actor Richard Thomas in "A Distant Country Called Youth," based on a collection of lively and evocative letters written by a young Tennessee Williams, on Monday, August 29, 7 p.m. Tickets to the one-night-only performance are $15.
The theatrical event will be a part of the enhanced programming surrounding The Playhouse's production of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer," August 23 - September 10.
"A Distant Country Called Youth" begins as the boy Thomas Lanier Williams moves through family travails and professional rejection to his first success, and concludes with the triumphal Broadway opening of "The Glass Menagerie." The letters are a remarkable blend - earnest, hilarious, anguished, touching - as the chameLeon Williams writes to family and friends, lovers and celebrities. The piece spotlights these fairly obscure 25 years in Williams' life. Here is a young Thomas Lanier Williams, growing up, exploring and finding his artistic voice as Tennessee Williams.
The production is adapted by Steve Lawson from "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Vol. I, 1920-1945," edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler. When Lawson (who also directs the production) read these letters, he immediately sensed they contained the seeds of a theatrical event. He was granted permission to proceed by the Williams estate, and the adaptation premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001. It has since played at Hartford Stage (where Richard Thomas first performed it), and subsequently at theaters across America including the Kennedy Center as well as in England and Ireland.
"So much of Tennessee's correspondence involves self-invention, self-creation," noted Lawson, who worked with the playwright twice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. "You can see Tom turning into Tennessee. When I first read the letters, it was incredibly exciting to come across moments where you could see future plays forming in his mind. Adapting was a challenge because the letters are so good - I ended up using 81 out of 330, and it was a killer distilling that much. But you have to consider the load for an actor. Ultimately, my goal was to show the full range of Tennessee - the man with the ribald sense of humor, the vulnerability, as well as the serious dramatist."
Richard Thomas appeared in Westport Country Playhouse's "Critic's Choice" and "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" Most recently, he was in a reading of A. R. Gurney's "The Golden Age" on The Playhouse stage. Thomas captured the public's heart starring in the Emmy Award-winning series, "The Waltons." He has continued to star in series, films, plays and over 50 movies for television. Thomas first entered Stephen King territory with his lead role in the miniseries Stephen King's "IT." He revisited this world in the 2006 miniseries "Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King". His other television movie and miniseries credits include "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Red Badge of Courage," "Johnny Belinda," "Living Proof: The Hank Williams Story," "Hobson's Choice" and "Roots: The Next Generation." On the big screen, Thomas has appeared in such movies as "The Wonder Boys" and the Ang Lee feature "Taking Woodstock." Most recently, he was seen in the Hallmark Channel's film "Time After Time." On stage, he has been called "one of the leading classical actors of his generation," Newsday. His Broadway career began at age seven with 1958's "Sunrise at Campobello," and has continued with such shows as "Fifth of July," "The Seagull," "The Front Page," "Tiny Alice," "Peer Gynt," "Richard II," "Richard III," "Hamlet" and "The Stendhal Syndrome." Recent appearances include Broadway's "Democracy" and "Race," The Public Theater's "Timon of Athens" and the national tour of the acclaimed Broadway revival of "12 Angry Men."
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was one of America's most prolific and important playwrights. His prodigious output included "The Glass Menagerie" (New York Drama Critics Award 1944), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1947), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1955), "Suddenly Last Summer" (1958), "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), "Night of the Iguana" (1961) and "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1963).