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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002
Tennessee Williams’ ‘Slapstick Tragedy’ performances scheduled for April 18-20

April 12, 2002

By Deidra Jackson
University of Mississippi News Services

OXFORD, Miss. — Tennessee Williams’ devotees and others may laugh to keep from crying at the dismal but heartfelt themes that run through the American playwright’s “Slapstick Tragedy,” which plays April 18-20 at The University of Mississippi’s Fulton Chapel.

In an unusual twist, the audience will be seated on the stage, so the auditorium becomes a “warehouse” for the actors.

Curtains open at 8 p.m. on the Oxford campus for each UM Department of Theatre Arts-sponsored performance. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5.50 for children under 18, and $4.50 for UM students. They are available at the Central Ticket Office.

“I think audiences will be surprised by a Tennessee Williams they may not yet have encountered,” said director Michele Cuomo, a UM assistant professor of theatre arts. “I hope they will be startled, amused, saddened and ultimately elated.”

“Slapstick Tragedy” is a package of two one-act dramas, “The Gndiges Fraulein” and “The Mutilated.”

In “The Gndiges Fraulein” (German for “gracious lady”), vicious scavenger birds repeatedly attack an ex-vaudeville singer as she attempts to gather fish for her supper. “The Mutilated” centers on a dilapidated New Orleans hotel and two seedy characters -- one morbidly sensitive about having a breast removed. They quarrel and make up in their miserable companionship, implying that all people suffer in one way or another.

“Though I was able to appreciate the style, I could not bring myself to smile,” said drama critic and Group Theater co-founder Harold Clurman after the play’s 1966 Broadway debut. “I was too conscious that its author was in pain.”

By employing a creative use of place, the UM theatrical crew creates a sense of magical realism in the tragicomedy as characters walk and see through walls, Cuomo said. The crew also is “using projected images to acclimate audiences to a Tennessee Williams they might not be familiar with,” Cuomo added.

Actors’ gestures and voices help “recreate a style of the absurd,” she added.

Williams reportedly wrote the mournful plays while he was deeply depressed and concerned about his career as a playwright and the role of the artist in society. His 1960s dramas, which critics term “absurdist,” center on what he saw as the hopelessness, irrationality and meaninglessness of life.

“I became fascinated with absurdist drama after working with graduate students on some (Samuel) Beckett pieces,” said Cuomo, who last season directed her original adaptation of “The Little Clay Cart.”

The cast features two UM faculty -- professor of English Dr. Ann Fisher-Wirth and associate professor of theatre arts Jennifer Mizenko. Student performers are senior Sarah Szymanski of Long Beach; graduate student Rebecca Bourgeois of Oxford; freshman Ritt Conner of Tulsa, Okla.; junior Michael Jones of Little Rock, Ark.; senior Priscilla Parchia of Litha Springs, Ga.; and junior Cylis Wilson of Nacogdoches, Texas.

Set designer is senior Russell Bockemuehl of Spring Hill, Fla., and freshman John Williamson of Montgomery, Ala., is projectionist. Designers are senior Arlene Watson of Baton Rouge, La., and sophomores Amy Strickland of Pheba, and Palmer Brown of Jackson. Lighting designer is graduate student Michael Knight of Amarillo, Texas, and sound designer is freshman Kellene Depew of Bellaire, Texas.

Call 662-915-7411 to reserve seating using VISA or MasterCard. Persons requiring special assistance because of a disability also should contact the sponsor.

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