Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare Highlight Virtual CRT Spring Season

Student actors will interpret the work of the famous playwrights in the new and challenging medium of Zoom theater.

KEY WEST, FLORIDA, USA - 1982: American playwright Tennessee Williams (1911 - 1983) pictured at his desk with papers and various objects including half consumed bottles of wine in the office room of the house he owned in Key West, Florida, shortly before his death in 1983. A Tiffany lamp sits on the desk alongside a lamp with a dented shade and a typewriter. (Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty Images)

Works by the American playwright Tennessee Williams are among the productions being staged during the Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Spring 2021 season (Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty Images).

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s 2021 virtual spring season will feature three one-act plays by Tennessee Williams, one of America’s foremost 20th century playwrights, and two productions by William Shakespeare.

Williams’ “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen,” which premiered in Westport in 1958, opens the season with a run from Thursday, Feb. 18 through Sunday, Feb. 21, followed by “This Property is Condemned” from March 18-21, with “And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens” from April 22-25. Dexter Singleton, visiting assistant professor of performance, is director for the three plays, all performed by student actors.

Shakespeare’s “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” set to run Thursday, Feb. 25 through Sunday, March 7, is directed by Raphael Massie of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “Antigone,” from April 2-11, is directed by Gary English, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Theatre Studies.

“You can’t help but be inspired or motivated by the work of Tennessee Williams. It’s just so deeply embedded in the American theater canon,” says Singleton, founding executive artistic director of Collective Consciousness Theatre in New Haven. “All of us have performed it, seen it, studied it. It’s been a part of my life as an artist since the beginning of my professional career.”

The 1945 Broadway production of “The Glass Menagerie” brought Williams fame, followed by successful runs of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” and “The Night of the Iguana.” His work often deals with themes of loneliness, poverty, and people’s need to find companionship or friendship. “Talk to Me” focuses on a man and a woman linked by their poverty. In “This Property,” a girl relates the story of her dead sister to a boy she meets. “Sad Stories” is about the private life of an interior director who is also a drag performer.

Singleton says directing virtual theatrical productions over the past year has provided the opportunity to develop new ways to engage audiences with works such as those in the Williams catalog that are filled with emotion and intimacy.

“I’m coming in with a lot of trial and error from previous Zoom productions I’ve done in terms of how to engage the audience using this medium and use other elements to be able to enhance it and continue to challenge myself to do different and new things,” he says. “I try to do things with the Zoom medium that employs theater as well as cinema. It is not theater. It is not television. It is not movies. It’s sort of a combination between all three of those. Some people call it its own medium.”

The cast of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of Shakespeare's "Pericles" rehearsing via Zoom.
The cast of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” which will be performed virtually from Feb. 25-March 7. Clockwise from top left: Alex Kosciuszek ’22 SFA, Damian Thompson (AEA), Abigail Hilditch ’22 SFA and Jamie Feidner ’22 SFA.

He notes another important element for the Williams series is having cast student actors who are “open enough to understand what it’s like for a character to go through extreme loneliness and the decisions that people make when they feel like they don’t have other options.” Two of the actors, Colin Kinnick ’22 (SFA) and Andre Chan, an MFA student, each appear in the first two productions separately and then perform together in the third.

“We’re developing that language between us in these earlier shows that will be super beneficial later on, because like any director who has actors they love working with, you get to a point where you have that common language; you don’t need to say much,” Singleton says. “I think it is a big challenge, and one that actors enjoy, to be able to play various roles within a series of one acts or within a production.”

The director says CRT audiences are accustomed to seeing the development of student actors as they perform throughout their time at UConn, whether as undergraduate students or in the Master of Fine Arts program.

“You’re really seeing a company of actors and their progression,” he says. “We hope that based on their talent and abilities that you are potentially seeing the next person who’s going to be a star on Saturday Night Live or the next actor who’s going to be on Broadway. Our department has a history of having actors from this program go on to have successful careers in TV, film, and theater.”

The cast for “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen” includes Kinnick as the Man and Casey Wortham, an MFA student, as the Woman. There will be a talkback following each performance throughout the series.

Ticket holders for all shows will receive a link via email 24 hours prior to the performance. For more information, visit the CRT website or call 860-486-2113.