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Tennessee Rising
Conceived, Written, and Performed by Jacob Storms
Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis
May 12, 2018

Jacob Storms
Photo by Ride Hamilton
Tennessee Williams Festival STL

This year’s Tennessee Williams festival is focusing the playwright’s time in New Orleans. From its headline production, A Streetcar Named Desire to various panel discussions and presentations, the festival is calling to mind Williams’ relationship with the city he loved, and particularly the French Quarter neighborhood, where Williams spent some important years that shaped his development as a playwright. One excellent highlight of the festival has been Jacob Storms’ one-man show Tennessee Rising, in which Storms portrays the playwright in a key era of his life.

Spanning the years from 1939 to 1945, the play follows Williams as moves from St. Louis to New Orleans and then travels around the country as his career begins to take off, as a playwright in New Orleans and New York, and also briefly as a screenwriter in Hollywood. The important people in his life, from his family relationships to his love affairs to his theatrical associations, are brought to life in Storms’ vivid portrayal of an affable, ambitious, and reflective Williams as he transitions from Tom Williams the aspiring writer to Tennessee Williams the successful playwright. It’s a fascinating tale, told essentially in the form of letters and reflective monologues, augmented by frequent lighting changes and blackouts that help to portray the passage of time. Storms is outfitted appropriately as a young Williams showing the development of his success, as in Act 1 he’s dressed more casual and in Act 2 he wears a dapper suit. It’s a well-structured play, with some interesting personal and professional anecdotes, with the stories of the productions of his plays being the most fascinating to my mind. It all leads up to the opening of his first hit play, The Glass Menagerie, and Storms takes the audience on a compelling journey in the process.

Unfortunately, this play isn’t running anymore, as it only ran for two days over the weekend. Storms has performed this work before in various venues, and perhaps he will perform it again elsewhere. It’s an excellent and fitting component of this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.

 

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