Tennessee Rising


Tennessee Rising

— Written and performed by Jacob Storms
— Directed by Alan Cumming
— June 2 to June 23  
— AMT Theatre, NYC

— Elaine Stritch (whose one-woman show show Elaine Stritch at Liberty was highly successful) was once asked what dramaturgical rules make a successful one-person show. She replied "Don't bother with any of that, honey. Get 'em to like you." 

And this is just what Jacob Storms does in his one-man show Tennessee Rising. In this brief solo play, which he wrote and performs, he presents us with the young Tennessee Williams from the period from 1939, when he arrived in New Orleans, to 1945, when The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway. Mr. Storms enters holding a drink and impishly saying "Look what I found”.

The young Williams tells us about his many experiences. Some of what we’re told is familiar, some not, and what is familiar bears repetition in Mr. Jacobs’ soft southern dialect

There’s much name-dropping, some famous — Lana Turner, Mae West, Laurette Taylor (referencing her work in Menagerie) — and some important for no other reason than that Williams knew them, such as his “traveling companion”, Jim Parrot. And of course, poignant references to his sister Rose, whose lobotomy is suggested in Suddenly Last Summer.

Indeed, Storms makes much of experiences that echo in the plays. Williams tells us the true story of his landlady pouring hot water through the floor boards on the the revelers below, a story that found its way into Vieux Carré. And he tells us about meeting a woman called Maggie the Cat and a fellow called Big Daddy — these stories are factual as well. We learn that he was “inspired” in a different way by the sand dunes in Provincetown — and indeed, Williams loved to entertain with provocative remarks during interviews.

The only surprise is Williams’ political consciousness. He comments on the government’s preparation for the War (which preparation was denied) and his disdain for American fascism. These are the only passages that give us a more complete profile of Williams’ personality than is generally known.

Mr. Jacobs’ acting, as directed by Alan Cumming, is understated but absorbing. In certain passages he might have chosen anger, but he chooses only resentment, supporting his amiability. Indeed, although we learn about Williams’ boyhood relationship with his sister, Mr. Storms’ avoids the unfortunate elements of the boy Thomas Williams’ early life (his father called him “Miss Nancy”).

Of course, Mr. Jacobs can only get limited mileage from his charm. As an actor has neither range nor depth of emotion, but as a playwright he doesn’t ask for it. Much of the script is merely reporting, interesting because of Mr. Storms’ personification of the America’s greatest playwright.

Tennessee Rising is not a meal but a delicious snack. Peach cobbler, perhaps.

— Steve Capra

June 2023

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