In the spirit of Tennessee Williams and concurrent with his eponymous literary festival, Second Star Performance Collective is staging two original one-act plays by New Orleans-based writers with themes rooted in the Williams canon.
The program, now in its second year and titled “Two for Tennessee: 2016 Edition,” is offering “Brick” by Jon Broder, which is loosely based on characters from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Solitary” by Stephanie Garrison, drawing from letters and conversations between Williams and his mentally troubled sister Rose.
“Two 4Tenn” will run four successive evenings between March 30 and April 2 in the Nims Black Box Theatre at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. Each play is about a half-hour long. Dan Zimmer designed the sets and the lighting.
“Tennessee Williams Festival is great, but what you’re seeing is almost like a repertory of his great works year in, year out,” said Harold Gervais, Second Star’s producer and the director of “Brick.” “We have so many great writers here in the city that, to me, it seemed like a missed opportunity. So I asked myself, ‘Why can’t we create new work while also honoring the legacy?’
“I began approaching writers whose work I respected and enjoyed and told them, ‘Go back to his short stories, his plays, his letters and his life and find something that strikes you about his work, and then write a one-act play around that.’ ”
“Brick,” which stars Manuel Ponce and Bob Edes Jr., is set in the present at an upscale French Quarter restaurant resembling Galatoire’s. Richard Mayer has a supporting role as a waiter.
Broder explained that his two main characters are loosely based on Brick and his onetime best friend, Skipper, a suicide victim who is not seen in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” but is referred to several times. In his one-act, Broder changes their names to Benjamin and Charlie and sets the action in 2015, when the two of them are seeing each other for the first time in 20 years.
In Williams’ famous play, Skipper’s suicide is related to his guilty feelings over a homosexual relationship between him and Brick before Brick’s marriage to his opportunistic wife Maggie. In Broder’s play, Benjamin and Charlie also had a relationship before going on to marry women. However, instead of taking his own life as Skipper did, Charlie has survived into the present and is out in the open about his sexual orientation.
“Charlie is now experiencing the kind of freedom that a homosexual is allowed to experience today but was not allowed to back then. And Benjamin stands on the other side of that coin,” Broder said.
“I’ve always felt that, had Skipper come out in the present, things would have gone very differently for him,” Broder said. “He wouldn’t have had to suffer from the rejection that he felt back then. So I just wanted to explore that in this piece.”
Garrison’s one-act play stars Garrett Prejean, Mike Spara and Leslie Boles-Kraus and is directed by Megan Eileen Kosmoski. Williams’ sister, Rose, who was hospitalized for what was thought to be schizophrenia, underwent a lobotomy for which Williams felt guilty, Garrison explained.
“It was something I don’t think he ever totally forgave himself for, even though he had no idea it was going to happen. He wasn’t around, and if he had been around, it might have gone differently,” Garrison said.
Authorities believe Rose was the model for Laura Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie” and some of Williams’ other writings.
“She definitely was a powerful force in his writing and his life,” Garrison said. “And so my play kind of explores their relationship, and it takes place in more in his mind as this dreamlike state in which he tries to make up for what happened to her.
“The play basically focuses on alternate versions of what their life could have been like had this event never occurred,” Garrison said.