In honor of Tennessee Williams' 100th birthday, Aurora Theatre Company continues its 19th season with the playwright's haunting drama THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE. Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross helms this evocative play featuring Beth Wilmurt, Charles Dean, Marcia Pizzo, and Thomas Gorrebeeck, along with Amy Crumpacker, Ryan Tasker, Leanne Borghesi, and Beth Deitchman. THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE closes May 8 at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. For tickets ($10-55) and information the public can call (510) 843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org.
Set shortly before World War I in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE is a story of irrepressible longing and rebellion. Known as "the nightingale of the Delta," Alma Winemiller is a lonely, unconventional woman hemmed in by her stern, puritanical father and her unstable mother. Heading towards spinsterhood, with an artistic temperament that her father tries to suppress, Alma finds consolation in her music and in the secret lifelong love she has for the boy-next-door. But it turns out that neither time nor circumstance will allow the two to be together.
Filled with all of the majestic themes, oversized characters, and gentle poetry that earnEd Williams his exalted position in American theater, THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE was written in 1951 and debuted on Broadway in 1976 after being fine-tuned by Williams for 25 years; more than just a revision of his 1948 play Summer and Smoke, it became a radically different work of art. When the play was revived in 2008 by The Actors Company Theatre, The New York Times called THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE "a warm, rich play full of that compassion and understanding and that simple poetry of the heart that is Mr. Williams at his shining, gentle best," a sentiment echoed by Variety, which declared, "It's time to reevaluate ‘The Eccentricities of a Nightingale'...as an exquisite work."
Of all the characters he created, Tennessee Williams declared himself closest to Alma Winemiller. In a 1973 Playboy interview, Williams was asked "With what characters of yours do you identify?" He replied, "Alma of Summer and Smoke is my favorite - because I came out so late and so did Alma, and she had the greatest struggle, you know? ... Miss Alma grew in the shadow of the rectory and so did I. Her love was intense, but too late. Her man fell in love with someone else and Miss Alma turned into a life of profligacy."
Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross helms THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE. Ross inaugurated Aurora Theatre Company with Barbara Oliver in 1992. He has directed 20 productions for the company, including last season's World Premiere of The First Grade, the critically-acclaimed production of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Mae West's SEX, The Birthday Party, Marius, Blue/Orange, Betrayal, and Lobby Hero, which went on to be presented as a co-production between Aurora Theatre Company, Jonathan Reinis, Inc., and the Napa Valley Opera House. For Aurora Theatre Company, Ross has also directed acclaimed productions of The Shape of Things, The Entertainer, The Weir, Death Defying Acts, Abigail's Party, The Mystery of Irma Vep (co-directed with Danny Scheie), and The Aspern Papers, among others. He also wrote and directed A Karen Carpenter Christmas in both San Francisco and Seattle. Prior to coming to the Bay Area, he worked for eight years at The Public Theater in New York as Executive Assistant to Joseph Papp and as co-Director of Play and Musical Development. While in New York, Ross also penned the book adaptation of the New York Drama Desk nominated musical Up Against It, based upon Joe Orton's screenplay for The Beatles.
Aurora Theatre Company has assembled an extraordinary ensemble for THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, including Beth Wilmurt, who returns to the Aurora as Alma Winemiller. Wilmurt was last seen on the Aurora stage in the company's hit production of Jack Goes Boating, Bosoms and Neglect, and Salome. Additional credits include American $uicide at Encore Theatre Company, The Death of Meyerhold at Shotgun Players, Schrodinger's Girlfriend at Magic Theatre, and productions at Word for Word and Crowded Fire, among others. Wilmurt is a founding member of Art Street Theatre; she most recently appeared in The Companion Piece at Z Space Studio/Encore Theatre Company. Also returning to the Aurora stage is Charles Dean as Reverend Winemiller. One of the Bay Area's most respected actors, Dean previously appeared at Aurora Theatre Company in the acclaimed productions of Awake and Sing! and The Best Man, in addition to productions of Hysteria, Private Jokes, Public Places, The Price, The Entertainer, and The Philanderer. A company member and Associate Artist at Berkeley Repertory Theatre for over 20 years, Dean has acted in more than 80 productions and has performed at American Conservatory Theater, Seattle Repertory Theater, Guthrie Theater, Old Globe Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, SF Playhouse, and Magic Theatre, among others; he made his Broadway debut in Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
Marcia Pizzo makes her Aurora debut as Mrs. Buchanan. Pizzo's credits include productions at American Conservatory Theater (Round and Round the Garden, Rock'N;Roll), California Shakespeare Theater (Restoration Comedy, The Tempest), Marin Theatre Company (The Women), Marin Shakespeare Company, and Pacific Repertory Theatre, among others. Thomas Gorrebeeck makes his Aurora debut as John Buchanan in THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE. Credits include productions at City Lights Theater Company (Compleat Female Stage Beauty), Center REPertory Company (Dracula), TheatreWorks (The Chosen), California Shakespeare Theater (Much Ado About Nothing), Palo Alto Players, Foothill Music Theatre, and Broadway By the Bay.
Also making their Aurora Theatre Company debuts are Amy Crumpacker as Mrs. Winemiller and Ryan Tasker as Roger. Crumpacker's credits include productions at TheatreFirst, B Street Theatre, and Sacramento Theater Company; she is a company member at Seattle's Intiman Theater. Tasker's credits include productions at Shotgun Players (Mary Stuart, The Forest War), TheatreFirst (The Grapes of Wrath), Willows Theatre Company, and Pacific Repertory Theatre.
Rounding out the cast for THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE are Leanne Borghesi as Mrs. Bassett and Beth Deitchman as Rosemary. Borghesi's credits include productions at New Conservatory Theater, Ray of Light Theatre, Brava Theater, and Thrillpeddlers. Deitchman previously appeared in Aurora Theatre Company's production of Miss Julie, for which she won a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award; additional credits include productions at TheatreFirst and Shotgun Players.
Playwright Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi in 1911; he changed his name to "Tennessee," the state where his father was born, in 1939 when he moved to New Orleans. His first critical acclaim as a playwright came in 1944 when The Glass Menagerie opened in Chicago and went to Broadway; it won a Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and, as a film, the New York Film Critics' Circle Award. At the height of his career in the late 1940s and 1950s, Williams worked with the premier artists of the time, most notably Elia Kazan, the director for stage and screen productions of Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and the stage productions of Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). Kazan also directed the film version of Williams' Baby Doll (1956); like many of Williams' works, it was simultaneously praised and denounced for addressing raw subject matter in a straightforward realistic way. A Streetcar Named Desire won a Pulitzer Prize and establishEd Williams as a major American dramatist; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Williams his second Pulitzer Prize. While Summer and Smoke (1948) was not a huge success on Broadway, its Circle in the Square Theatre revival in 1952, starring Geraldine Page, is considered to have started the Off-Broadway theater movement.
The 1960s were difficult years for Williams, as he experienced some of his harshest treatment from the press; it was during this time that he penned Night of the Iguana (1961) and The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963). At his best, Tennessee Williams is a haunting, lyrical, and powerful voice, and one of the most important forces in 20th century American drama. Additional works for the stage include: American Blues (1939); The Rose Tattoo (1951); Orpheus Descending (Battle of Angels, 1957); Suddenly Last Summer (1958); The Seven Descents of Myrtle (Kingdom of Earth, 1968); In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969); Dragon Country (1970); Out Cry (1971); Small Craft Warnings (1972); The Two Character Play (1973); and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980). Williams died in 1983; his body was found in a New York City hotel filled with half-finished bottles of wine and pills.
Following THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE, Aurora Theatre Company closes its 19th season with the first American professional production of British director David Farr and Icelandic actor-director Gísli Örn Gardarsson's thrilling avant garde adaptation of Franz Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS, directed by Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson in June.
Nominated for 27 and winner of 7 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for 2009, Aurora Theatre Company continues to offer challenging, literate, intelligent stage works to the Bay Area, each year increasing its reputation for top-notch theater. Located in the heart of the Downtown Berkeley Arts District, Aurora Theatre Company has been called "one of the most important regional theaters in the area" and "a must-see midsize company" by the San Francisco Chronicle, while The Wall Street Journal has "nothing but praise for the Aurora." The Contra Costa Times stated "perfection is probably an unattainable ideal in a medium as fluid as live performance, but the Aurora Theatre comes luminously close," while the San Jose Mercury News affirmed "[Aurora Theatre Company] lives up to its reputation as a theater that feeds the mind," and the Oakland Tribune declared "it's all about choices, and if you value good theater, choose the Aurora."