The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymoreby Tennessee Williams
Sissy Goforth, a legendary diva (and former Ziegfeld showgirl) is dictating her memoirs atop the mountain of her Italian Riviera estate when the Angel of Death drops in to make love to her.
directed by Fred Abrahamse
Artscape and Abrahamse-Meyer ProductionsCape Town, South Africa
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“Has it ever struck you that life is all memory, except for the one
present moment that goes by you so quick you hardly catch it going?”
About the Play
This landmark South African production includes the rarely performed original Kabuki-based stage directions and features award-winning South African actress Jennifer Steyn as Sissy with Marcel Meyer as the Angel of Death.
"No one could play the part of Flora Goforth in The Milk Train with the idea that being selected for the role was exactly a compliment to her, except as an actress of remarkable power."
Williams’ view of Tallulah Bankhead, New York Times December 29, 1963
Flora “Sissy” Goforth is a dying woman with a flamboyant past and a bruising tongue. She sits in her villa on top a mountain on the coast of Italy. This much-married, now-widowed millionaires is spending her last days dictating her memoirs when she is interrupted by the arrival of a handsome young poet. At first we take him to be a hustler who is willing to sell his poems or his body to susceptible and lonely ancients. To Mrs. Goforth, who has lived a full and promiscuous life and is in mortal fear of relinquishing it, Chris comes as an answer to a carnal prayer. No other deathbed has cradled such terrified comic ferocity.
About the Creative Team
Jennifer Steyn (Flora “Sissy” Goforth) Jennifer Steyn is a South African actress and director best known for her starring television roles as Marge in Madam & Eve, as Gloria in Jacob's Cross and as Deborah Churchill in Fallen. In addition, Steyn has appeared in numerous theatre productions, including The Fall of the House of Usher, Under Milkwood, Angels in America, Anthony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, King Lear, The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband, Old Boys and Green Man Fishing. She also won the Fleur du Cap award for Best Actress for her role in Blue Remembered Hills.
Marcel Meyer (Chris Flanders; costume designer) is a founding member of Abrahamse-Meyer Productinos, one of a few independent classical theatre companies in South Africa. The small company built up an excellent international reputation, particularly through their innovative productions of Shakespeare plays
Nicholas Dallas (One/The Witch of Capri)
Roelof Storm (Two/Blackie)
Fred Abrahamse (director, set designer) graduated from the University of Cape Town. He started his career at the Space Theatre, as a founder member of Troupe Theatre Company. He went on to become Artistic Director at The Baxter Theatre and is now a freelance producer and director. Fred is also a well-respected theatre designer. His theatre involvement spans some twenty years and sixty-five odd productions. He has directed dramas, opera, musicals, cabarets, musical theatre and several community theatre groups. He has been nominated for, and won, several prestigious theatre awards. Steven Berkoff‘s Decadence and Greek, The Glass Menagerie, Angels in America, Shirley Valentine, District Six-the Musical, Steel Magnolias, Beautiful Thing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are among his directorial attributes. As Producer and Director his productions include Station 70,The Buddy Holly Story, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Grease, Solid Gold Jukebox Abba (ish), DISCOvery, Bouncers and Shopping & F***ing. Of his productions at least twenty have involved bringing new South African work to the stage. In 1999 Fred co-founded The Gauloises Warehouse Theatre with Charl-Johan Lingenfelder and acted as producing management for 37 productions including -Joe Barber, Naked Boys Singing, My Night with Reg and Abdullah Ibrahiem before closing in September 2003. The highlight of the Warehouse Theatre undoubtedly being the production of Joe Barber which was seen by over 45,000 people. Fred’s 2005 productions include the highly successful Much Ado About Nothing, The Canal Walk Children’s Festival of Fun, The Secret Love Life of Ophelia, The Stabani Project and Bouncers. 2006 saw Fred’s highly controversial productions of Romeo and Juliet and Bangbroek Mountain the Musical playing to capacity houses in Cape Town. Fred is currently working on several film projects including writing his first feature length film.
Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (composer) is an award-winning South African performer, composer and well-known musical director who is also known as the creator of highly innovative and controversial theatrical shows. He has been musical director on more than 20 musicals, from Rocky Horror Picture Show to Cabaret. 2006 saw him musically direct and re-arrange Jesus Christ Superstar, for which he has received a Naledi Award Nomination. This production subsequently toured to Athens and Korea in 2007.He is best known to television audiences as a judge and the musical director of the M-Net reality talent competition High School Musical: Spotlight South Africa, from August to September, 2008.
Williams on Milk Train and Death
When recalling the creation of Milk Train in his Memoirs, Williams writes: “People have said and said and said that my work is too personal: and I have persistently countered this charge with my assertion that all true work of an artist must be personal, whether directly or obliquely, it must and it does reflect the emotional climates of its creator.” This period in his life, “reflected so painfully the deepening shadows of my life as man and as artists,” Williams wrote.
It was while Williams was working on Milk Train, that his lover and partner of 14 years, Frank Merlo was dying of lung cancer and Williams “obliquely” wove “Frankie’s” death into the very fiber of this play.
Williams’ biographer Donald Spoto, explained that for Williams Milk Train became ''a conversation between himself and death…a work so intimate that it was virtually impossible for it to reach an anonymous public.''
Williams and Merlo had been lovers since 1947 but by the early 1960s they had started to drift apart. It was during this period that Williams had a string of brief romances with a variety of young men, including “a handsome blond kid of about twenty-two” who was known as the “Dixie Doxy” (Williams uses this nickname as the stage-name Flora Goforth takes on when she enters show-business at 15) and later he began “a serious flirtation with a gifted and handsome young poet…whom I’ll call Angel…” (shades of Chris Flanders?). It was during his relationship with the poet “Angel” that Williams learnt of Frank’s illness and it was this illness that bound them together again.
In his Memoirs Williams recalls: “In the last months of Frankie’s life, Vivien [Leigh] gave a party to which she invited Frankie. It was his last time out. Vivien had centered the whole dinner party around him with an intuitive sympathy that will always endear her memory to me. She did it without seeming to do it…Having known madness, she knew how it was to be drawing close to death. Drawing close to death she was, too, although it was not yet known…”
Death and dying pre-occupy every principal character in the play: Sissy Goforth valiantly attempts to keep death at bay; her young, secretary Blackie’s stoically mourns her departed husband Charles; Chris Flanders has “found his vocation” by helping old, dying men and women “get through it…in a way that’s more dignified than most of us know how to do it”; and the Witch of Capri, in an attempt to avoid thinking about her own mortality, gloats over the demise of her friends.
Most of Sissy’s memoirs are extended arias about the deaths of her husbands. Right at the start of the play she recalls the death of her fourth husband, the young Russian poet, Alex, “the one I married for love” who “died that night in my arms in a clinic at Nice: and my heart died with him! Forever.”
This sentiment is movingly echoed in Williams’ own Memoirs when he recalls the loss he experienced after Frank’s death: “As long as Frank was well, I was happy. He had a gift for creating a life and, when he ceased to be alive, I couldn’t create a life for myself…I had lost what had sustained my life.”
In his Memoirs Williams wrote the following concluding thoughts on Milk Train: “Let us reflect a few moments about plays that are deeply concerned with human mortality. I’m afraid audiences are afraid. I believe that John Hancock in San Francisco even scared the playwright when, at his production of Milk Train, he had skeletal figures of white plaster seated here and there in his theatre [what a brilliantly bizarre invention!]”
Hancock’s skeletons, like Williams’ play remind each and every one of us of the fate that sooner or later awaits us all. But Williams, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, re-assures us that “the readiness is all” and with some spiritual enlightenment we can find “acceptance of not knowing anything but the moment of still existing until we stop existing, and acceptance of that moment, too.”