Tennessee Williams experts enliven his erotic noir for the stage

Tennessee Williams experts enliven his erotic noir for the stage

After the international success of ‘Kingdom of Earth’ and ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’, local theatre makers Abrahamse & Meyer Productions have been granted special permission by the Tennessee Williams Estate to adapt one of Williams’ most famous erotic short stories for the stage.
Written in 1942 and initially published in an expensive limited edition, ‘One Arm’ tells of an aspiring boxer who loses his arm in a car accident and turns to prostitution for a living. The production will be showcased at the Artscape Arena from Thursday, August 28, to Sunday, September 14.

PETER TROMP got some insights into the production from the creative team.

THE DIRECTOR

Fred Abrahamse

What personally drew you to the story of ‘One Arm’, and motivated you to do a stage adaptation of the work?
I adore Tennessee Williams’ work and have been looking at all his lesser known works. Everybody knows ‘The Glass Menagerie’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ etc., but he wrote over thirty full length plays, a plethora of one act plays and many short stories, some of which formed the basis for his plays. Growing up and living in a country like ours, issues of prejudice of all kinds have always interested me. Williams’ obsession with ‘the other’ has been a logical source of inspiration for me when it comes to ‘modern classics’.
‘One Arm’ is a story that leapt of the page and intrigued me and I so wished it was a play. We applied to the Tennessee Williams’ Estate and based on our track record of recent work in the USA they granted us permission to adapt the short story.
One of the major aims of our company is “to keep the classics alive”, hence our interest in Shakespeare, Eugene O’Neill, Williams and other great writers. We have had an overwhelming response to our work in America. We have also formed a fantastic relationship with The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theatre Festival in America and are forging wonderful relationships with other American theatre makers and academics. It is still in its early stages, but we see this developing into a major cultural exchange between our two continents – with the end result being the creation of more work for local actors with American directors, and vice versa.

What can audiences look forward to with the show?
A colleague attended a rehearsal run of the play and afterwards stated that we had achieved the unmanageable – we had staged film noir. I think we have a very fascinating evening in the theatre with an intriguing story lined up for people.

THE ACTORS

Marcel Meyer

Tell us a bit about your character and your process of realising him.
I play the part of Oliver Winemiller, a young boxer who loses his arm in a car accident and turns to prostitution for a living. One night something in him snaps and he murders a client. He is sentenced to death. On death-row he receives hundreds of letters from former clients, expressing how deeply he touched their lives. This realisation gives him consolation in his final moments as he faces death on the electric chair. As is often the case in Williams’ works, Oliver’s physical mutilation is a metaphor for his emotional disfigurement. He is a wonderfully complex Williams hero who is trying to reconcile his carnal body with an elusive soul. When working with a brilliant writer like Williams and a top director like Fred, all you have to do as an actor is just surrender yourself whole-heartedly to the text, the direction and the process and the rest should fall into place.

You’ve appeared in every one of the Tennessee Williams productions your production company has staged so far. As an actor, what so special about performing in his plays?
Tennessee Williams is, in my opinion, the greatest playwright after William Shakespeare. Like Shakespeare, Williams was a poet who had this remarkable ability of presenting the human condition in a rivetingly, theatrical way. Leading British playwright, Peter Shaffer, said of Williams, “He was a born dramatist, as few are ever born. Whatever he put on paper, superb or superfluous, glorious or gaudy, could not fail to be electrifyingly actable. He could not write a dull scene…Tennessee Williams will live as long as drama itself”. I’ll second that statement.

Nicholas Dallas

Tell us a bit about your character and your process of realising him.
I play eight different characters: six men and two women. Most of these characters are witnesses to the lead character’s rather tragic life who drive the plot forward and one of them is attempting to offer him a sort of redemption. These different characters appear in quick succession, with only one of them appearing more than once.
The challenge has been twofold – how to make these different characters distinct from each other, and, how to create them in a couple of minutes on stage. I have tried to work along the lines of “life-drawing” principles, specifically “gestural drawing”. This style of drawing uses only a few strokes in less than three minutes to capture the essence of the gesture.
I chose vocal aspects such as accent and placement of the voice to draw these characters in the quickest and cleanest way possible.
Most of these characters also only appear in shadow or partial light, so they are very much an outline only. This has made it quite difficult for me as there is very little time in which to make the vocal shifts, which is very confusing for the voice. It has, however, been great for finding an economy of performance. I am quite interested at the moment in an economical and understated approach to performance so this production has offered an excellent opportunity to explore this.

* Tickets are R100 to R150, and can be booked at Computicket, or Artscape-Dail-a-Seat on 021 421 7695.