Sunday, September 1, 2013

En Avant!


Steve Capra’s review of En Avant

written and performed by William Shuman
directed by Ruis Woertendyke
produced as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, 2013

A one-man play poses unique problems. With no plot, structure, conflict or the other dramatic tools, they’re difficult to pull off. William Shuman has done a splendid job in En Avant!: an evening with Tennessee Williams. Shuman wrote and performs the piece. En Avant (onward) was Williams’ dauntless motto.


It’s been 30 years since Williams’ death. He led a life ripe for the biographer, with violent ups and downs. On the artistic plane, he saw two Pulitzers and critical rejection. Personally, he dealt with being gay, alcoholism and commitment to an asylum. Not to mention a breathtakingly dysfunctional family. And, on the positive side, lovers.

Shuman’s based the script on Williams’ journals. He presents his life in a non–linear way, creating a dreamy tone. For those of us familiar with the playwright’s biography, he offers no particular revelations. But we’re engrossed by Shuman’s affectionate recounting of the events of Williams’ life and companions – his agent Audrey Wood, his lover Frank Merlo, his unfortunate sister.

Wisely, Shuman makes no attempt to impersonate his subject. But he’s wearing Williams’ signature white suit and Panama hat. Our actor has a charming southern accent, evident but not intrusive. He drinks in a way reflecting sharp observation and never suggesting drunkeness. The set is beautiful, with a fan-backed wicker chair.

In moments of anguish, Shuman turns his face from us, giving the character depth without staining the fun.

Shuman’s had the sense to keep the show brief. Still, I’d have liked to learn more about his relationship to the plays, particularly Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which is mentioned only in passing.

In fact, En Avant is one of the few plays that we’d like to see expanded, not because it needs to be fleshed out, but because we want more of a great thing.

 - Steve Capra