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Seven decades later, Tennessee Williams' play to get re-staging

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor

Candles to the Sun
Click photo to enlarge
Photo by R. Eric Stone

Tennessee Williams’ first full-length play – “Candles to the Sun” – is returning to St. Louis for a March 16 homecoming performance at the theater where it premiered on March 18, 1937.

Released 2/27/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — After 70 years, Tennessee Williams’ first full-length play – “Candles to the Sun” – is returning to St. Louis for a March 16 homecoming performance at the theater where it premiered on March 18, 1937.

The organizer of the reunion is Tom Mitchell, the acting head of the department of theater at the University of Illinois.

Mitchell originally resurrected the play with research assistance from adjunct theater professor Allean Hale and directed a fully staged student production of it at Illinois in October 2005. The 20 student actors from Illinois’ actor-training program will re-create their roles in a staged reading in St. Louis. Joining them will be Washington University acting teacher Annamaria Pileggi and Metro Theater Company actor Nick Kryah.

The play, which illuminates the struggles of coal miners and family members living in Alabama’s Red Hills mining region, was originally presented twice – on March 18 and 20, 1937 – by The Mummers, an amateur acting troupe, in the auditorium of the Wednesday Club. Since 1972, the building at 4504 Westminster Place has been the home of The Learning Center, which presents educational and community-focused programs.

“The Learning Center/Wednesday Club auditorium is a remarkable building, constructed in 1908 from designs by architect Theodore C. Link in the Prairie Style,” Mitchell said. “The auditorium features the original furnishings that Williams and his friends experienced when mounting the first of his full-length works.

“The first-floor auditorium has approximately 500 leather-upholstered seats and a small stage that was used for recitals and poetry readings, as well as theatrical productions,” he said. “Upstairs, the Wednesday Club had a large kitchen and dining room, with several side rooms with fireplaces and a solarium.

Mitchell, who has produced several of Williams’ early plays and is the author of “Caged Hearts: Five Early Plays of Tennessee Williams,” said the playwright wrote “Candles” while he was a student at Washington University. He noted that Williams’ signature use of strong female characters dates to this early effort.

“This play features Star Pilcher, a young woman forced by circumstances into prostitution, and her sister-in-law, Fern, a strong maternal presence who must fight to protect her poetic son,” the director said.

The roles of Star and Fern were performed by Jane Garrett and Viola Perle, respectively. The play’s original director was Willard Holland, who also played the leading male role, Birmingham Red.

Mitchell said The Mummers produced two other plays by Williams – who still went by his given name, Tom – at the Wednesday Club. During the 1936 and 1937 seasons, they staged Williams’ short play “Headlines” and “Fugitive Kind,” another full-length production.

The March 16 production of “Candles” at The Learning Center begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for a minimum contribution of $10 at the door, or by calling 314-361-1908. Tickets also may be purchased in advance at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, St. Louis, or by calling 314-367-6731.

More information about the performance is available from Mitchell, 217-333-3538, or Emily Richard at The Learning Center, 314-361-1908.