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Tennessee Williams portrait

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This musical play about the life of Tennessee Williams—the complex, driven, flamboyant and prolific genius who created many of the seminal works of the American stage and screen—explores his family archetypes, his agent and his longtime companion and how they gave rise to his indelible characters. The time of the play spans the great arc of the writer’s life: beginning when Williams is 7 years old to 2 years before his death at the age of seventy-two.The music, composed by Paul Leavitt, covers a wide range in the American canon, from ballads, ragtime, Dixieland, rhythm & blues and full-on Broadway musical numbers.

The Arena Stage Kogod Cradle Series supports the exploration and development of new and emerging work in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle with visiting companies, artists and ensembles.The Kogod Cradle Series is generously sponsored by Arlene and Robert Kogod.

A musical about Tennessee Williams, his transformation from shy Thomas Lanier to the famous creative genius, exploring his sexual compulsion, rise to fame, fall into addiction, and redemption through his work spanning almost a century of theatre history.

BOOK & LYRIC BY SHELLEY HERMAN GILLON
AND HARRIET MCFAUL PILGER

MUSIC BY PAUL LEAVITT

DIRECTED BY MATT COWART

FEATURING JOSHUA MORGAN AS TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

February 5th at 8:00 PM (SOLD OUT)

February 6th at 8:00 PM (SOLD OUT)

February 7th at 8:00 PM (SOLD OUT)

February 8th at 7:30 PM (SOLD OUT)

$10 General Admission

$0 - Free for Subscribers

Tickets are FREE for Arena Stage subscribers and members and $10 for the general public.

All seating is general admission and reservations are strongly encouraged.

Tickets may also be purchased by calling 202-488-3300.

September 2007 - Page-to-Stage Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

August 2008 - Metro Stage

March 2011 - Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival

  • Harriet McFaul Pilger

    Book & Lyrics

  • Shelley Herman Gillon

    Book & Lyric

  • Paul Leavitt

    Music

View the Synopsis

A HOUSE OF GLASS (working title) explores the transformation of shy, diffident Thomas Lanier Williams into Tennessee Williams–genius, addict, icon and iconoclast–and the demons that drove him, the angels that guided him. The time of the play spans the great arc of the writer’s life, beginning in 1918, when Williams is seven years old, to 1981, two years before Williams’ death, at the age of seventy-two, in 1983.

The play opens with Old Tenn, in New Orleans in 1981, over-medicated and too far into the afternoon alcohol, struggling to write. He nods off and is taunted by his iconic characters, filtering in from the wings for the “Opening Number”. The chorus transforms into a family portrait from 1918. The only safe harbor for Tom and his sister Rose is in “Clarksdale, Mississippi” with their beloved Grand and Grandfather. The children grow up in an epic war of acrimony and recrimination―their father a hard-drinking, homophobic bully, their mother the much put-upon, pretentious martyr. The mother gives Tom a typewriter and nominates him as her “Writin’ Son” but the gift comes with strings, namely that Tom will have to rescue the family from poverty with his earnings. The father calls Tom “Miss Nancy”, and derides his early success as a writer.

After an early adult bout with his blue devils, Tom persists in his dreams of becoming a writer, moving to “New Orleans” where he revels in the city’s glorious license and splendor. He continues to write while he takes a series of odd jobs, parties with a wild assortment of characters, and at the age of twenty-seven, loses his virginity to another young man. There, he first calls himself Tennessee Williams and acquires an agent, Audrey Wood, who shapes the trajectory of his extraordinary professional career.

In Provincetown, his “First Love” affair with a dancer ends in disillusionment. While his professional career begins to take off, Rose has begun a long slide into madness, culminating in her harrowing pre-frontal lobotomy. Tom and Rose sing “Who Was I?” The “Act One Finale” finds Tom in Chicago, angry and terrified by turns, as Audrey and the rest of the cast try to reassure him. Act One concludes with triumphant reviews and the full cast extolling this extraordinary new voice of the American stage.

Act Two begins three months after The Glass Menagerie opens in New York, as Tom experiences the “Catastrophe of Success” While his professional life sky-rockets him out of near-poverty into wealth and celebrity, his blue devils arrive in full force, along with a chorus of sycophantic gay men, engaging but destructive. He continues to write every day, but fears that he will never write anything of value again. Nonetheless, he perseveres, fashioning A Streetcar Named Desire, then Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, and Night of the Iguana. But the blue devils are relentless.

Even a 14-year stable relationship with his “Longtime Companion”, Frank Merlo, and the care and concern of Audrey, cannot overcome Williams’ downward trajectory. They lament their powerlessness in “Where Is He Now?” Desperate to hear the “The Click” that will drown out the dissonant voices inside his head, the writer over-indulges in sex, alcohol, and prescription uppers and downers. Success and accolades are replaced by cacophonous laceration by “The Critics”—both of the theater and those that reside inside his head. Tom drives away those who take care of him. He breaks down, and is put into a straightjacket.

Act Two ends as Old Tenn takes a sheet of vellum out of his typewriter, assuring the audience that he not only survived the crisis but lived a full and productive life thereafter. As he does so, the chorus of iconic characters enters and slowly frees Tom from the straight jacket to a reprise the “Opening Number” and the “Finale of Act One”. The lights fade on Old Tenn and on Tom, but the iconic characters created by Tennessee Williams remain in the light.

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Press Release

Press Release

“New Musical About Tennessee Williams Debuts At Arena Stage In 2014 Kogod Cradle Series”

Show Poster

Show Poster

Download the official show poster for this production of “A House of Glass”.

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Logo

Download the production graphics.