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Release: Immediate

UI produces revision that alumnus Tennessee Williams preferred to "Summer and Smoke"

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1997-98 season is the 50th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of "Summer and Smoke" by University of Iowa theater alumnus Tennessee Williams. To mark the anniversary, University Theatres is producing not the play that was produced on Broadway, but the revision that Williams preferred, "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale."

"The Eccentricities of a Nightingale," directed by new UI department of theatre arts faculty member John Cameron, will open at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, in Theatre B of the UI Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 6, 7 and 11-14, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 8 and 15.

"Summer and Smoke," a sensuous and poignant story of a Southern spinster's passionate longing, was premiered in 1947, following "The Glass Menagerie" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" in the Williams chronology. This places the play among the works that established Williams as one of America's most important playwrights.

As in "A Streetcar Named Desire," the competing impulses of puritanism and sensuality, cultured refinement and animal need, do battle in "Summer and Smoke."

Dissatisfied with the original script and disappointed with the Broadway production, Williams busily re-wrote the script, retaining the same characters and locale, hoping to substitute "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" for "Summer and Smoke" in the London premiere. But when he arrived with the revision, the production was too far advanced to accommodate the change.

In his forward to the published script, Williams wrote "I think 'The Eccentricities of a Nightingale' is a substantially different play from 'Summer and Smoke,' and I prefer it. It is less conventional and melodramatic."

He expressed the hope that the publication of "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" would lead to a production on Broadway that would confirm his conviction that this "radically different version of the play" was a superior script, but his hope was unfulfilled. In fact, "Eccentricities" was not produced at all until 1964 and has been produced only rarely since.

Cameron, who had taught acting for the last decade at the University of New York at Stony Brook, arrived at the UI last fall expecting to direct "Summer and Smoke," until designer Dan Nemteanu handed him a copy of "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale." "He smiled and said, "This is a better play.'," Camerson recalls "I was actually kind of loathe to change it that late, but I read the play and he was right. It had better character development. It's easier to understand the journey of the characters in this play, than in 'Summer and Smoke.'

"It really is substantially different from 'Summer and Smoke.' There are a few characters in common, but the structure is very different and those characters have changed dramatically. It has the same central character of Alma, who is the eccentric. The unifying element of most of Williams' plays is that his characters all exist in isolation, and they're all looking for ways to break out of that isolation. Alma is trying to find the same thing that Blanche Dubios was reaching for in 'A Streetcar Named Desire." She's looking for a passion, for fulfillment, for a love, for something that she can't even truthfully identify, and so she's very isolated."

Cameron points out not only that the production provides theater-goers with the opportunity to see a "new" Williams play, but also that the project is particularly valuable for the student actors, because "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" is a Tennessee Williams script without dominating models, like Marlon Brando's characterization of Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire." "It's been really fun for us to do it because it's like working with a brand new script," he says.

Thomas Lanier Williams came to the UI in 1937 to study playwriting with E.C. Mabie, and he received his bachelor's degree from the UI in 1938, having not made much of an impression. According to both legend and Williams' recollection, however, he did acquire the nickname "Tennessee" at the UI, where the other students were confused about the exact origin of his Mississippi drawl.

Cameron says the production is a fitting tribute to Williams by his alma mater. "It's the 50th anniversary of the Broadway production of 'Summer and Smoke,' and so the irony is obvious, that we're not doing that one," Cameron says. "We're doing the one that he wanted, the one that he liked."

Tickets for "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" are $14 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and audience members 17 and younger). Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

The three winter-spring University Theatres Mainstage productions are available as a subscription package that offers a discount of 25 percent. The other productions are the world premiere of "Salt" by guest playwright Migdalia Cruz and director Juan Ramirez of the Chicago Latino Theatre Company, Feb. 26-March 8; and Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," re-set in the moonlit streets of New Orleans, April 2-12.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.