SEPTEMBER 24 - 27, 2020

Fiona Ramsay in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival

Sweet Bird of Youth

by Tennessee Williams

An ambitious golden boy's dreams run aground on the rocky shores of small-town Mississippi politics in Williams’ rarely-seen classic, staged by Festival favorites from South Africa.
directed by Fred Abrahamse

featuring Marcel Meyer and Fiona Ramsay


In association with the TW Festival

Cape Town, South Africa


This show was presented Sept 21-24, 2017
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Set in the Gulf Coast village of Saint Cloud, where small-town politics are as rotten as any in the state of Denmark, Sweet Bird of Youth tracks the fading dreams of a traveler returning home. Marcel Meyer plays the gigolo Chance Wayne as a mirror to Hamlet: another princely hero who is expected to save the day and does not.

Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Sweet Bird is a drama of hesitation and inaction that asks: what does it mean to be a king or queen, and what does it mean to be a hero?

Alongside Chance, the former movie star Alexandra Del Lago (traveling incognito as Princess Kosmonopolis)—played here by South African film and stage star Fiona Ramsay – faces her own uncertain future.

This all-new production of Sweet Bird of Youth is paired in repertory with Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Hamlet. Both shows are directed by Fred Abrahamse, whose Festival credits include The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Kingdom of Earth, and Desire Under the Elms.

About the Play

Tennessee Williams, the grandson of an Episcopal preacher, born in a rectory during Lent, drew heavily on religious themes and images. For Sweet Bird, Williams found inspiration in the Mystery, Miracle, and Morality plays that had been the staple of English Theater during the Middle Ages. Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethan playwrights also built their dramas on foundations laid down by these popular medieval plays.

Williams subtly adapted the conventions of medieval religious dramas to a contemporary American setting. Allegorical characters, as in Morality plays, make up the dramatis personae: Chance, Heavenly, Princess, Boss and Junior. Just as Shakespeare transmuted the medieval stock character of Vice into the psychologically complex Richard III and Macbeth, Williams imbued his symbolic characters with dense, complex and ambivalent personalities.

In the tradition of the Mystery plays, many of which focused on the Passion of Christ, Williams set his play on Easter Sunday. We witness the resurrection of The Princess, but the hero is doomed to hellish flames.

Medieval plays utilized a mixture of enactment and direct address to the audience. Shakespeare would refine this into his “theater of soliloquy,” in which characters directly address the audience, revealing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and desires. Rather than speaking to the Princess, Williams instructs Chance to turn from her, walk downstage and, like Hamlet, engage directly with the audience, sharing his life story.

Elia Kazan, the original director of Sweet Bird on Broadway, noted that Chance Wayne was “a sort of grotesque mid-twentieth century Hamlet. Chance smells of doom. It comes out of him like sweat, or radiation. Chance, and the Princess and even The Boss come forward under the author’s direction, and recreate for themselves and for us their wish-dreams, their romanticized pasts, their lost glory. And as this happens, the author, now confident in his capabilities of the new stage says in his stage directions that ‘Room Changes,’ ‘Bar disappears.’ ‘They are alone in the Palm Garden.’ ‘He is alone with himself.’ In other words, the TRAPPED ONE is transported on the wings of this spiritual experience – drink, dope, romance, sex, longing, imagination, memory, whatever – OUT OF THIS WORLD.”

excerpted from the 2017 Festival catalogue

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