CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 5, 2001
Tennessee Williams' 'Spring Storm,' written at the UI, finally has its
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University Theatres Gallery Series will present the
Iowa premiere of "Spring Storm," which Tennessee Williams wrote
at the University of Iowa when he was a theater student in the late 1930s,
at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 18-20, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan.
21, in Theatre B of the UI Theatre Building.
Twenty-six-year-old Tom Williams enrolled at the UI in 1937 a few credits
short of graduation, attracted by the schools growing reputation in
the creative arts, and particularly the progressive reputation and new facility
of the theater department. He wrote "Spring Storm" for a playwriting
seminar taught by E.C. Mabie, the legendary "Boss" of the department.
Set in small-town Mississippi, the play traces the sexual/romantic struggles
of four characters against the backdrop of turbulent weather, rising waters
and town gossip. A southern belle, Heavenly Critchfield, must choose between
her working-class lover, Dick, and the sensitive, bookish Arthur, the rich
boy preferred by her social-climbing mother. Meanwhile, the towns repressed
librarian, Hertha, nurtures a secret passion for Arthur. These over-the-top
characters and their interactions foreshadow the themes and characters that
later made the mature Williams famous.
Director Willie Barbour, a student in the UI department of theatre arts,
says, "From these engaging characters would eventually emerge, among
others, the well-loved personalities of Tom and Amanda in Glass Menagerie;
the play also showcases the creative structure which Williams would perfect
over the following years as his own signature style."
Apparently Williams struggled to finish the script, even writing several
different endings, and when plans for a production back home in St. Louis
fell through, he abandoned it and went on to other projects, notably "Not
About Nightingales," which he wrote for another UI class. That play has
also been exhumed and produced in recent years.
Williams was shy and attracted little attention at the UI, acting in a few
small roles despite the impediment of his thick southern accent, working on
technical crews and making spending money as a busboy in the cafeteria at
He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the UI in 1938, and, according
to local legends, he picked up the nickname "Tennessee" during his
year in Iowa City from classmates who couldnt remember which southern
state he was from, but he left without ever winning the respect of the rigorously
According to one anecdote, Mabie responded to the classroom reading of "Spring
Storm" with glassy-eyed silence before dismissing the class with the
comment, "Well, we all have to paint our nudes."
In his memoirs, Williams stated that Mabie was prejudiced against him, and
stories that have circulated about their relationship suggest that the conservative
chairmans estimation of Williams was at least partly the result of homophobia.
UI alumnus Lowell Matson, a widely published theater scholar, wrote in a letter,
"Beginning immediately after Williams graduation in 1938, and for
the 18 years or so thereafter that I knew The Boss, he never had anything
better to say about that pansy than Mr. Williams had to say about
Although Williams was winning Pulitzer Prizes and other major awards, Mabie
steadfastly refused to produce the plays of his most famous and honored student.
When Iowa Summer Rep devoted the 1984 season to Williams plays, it was
considered ironic that the plays were performed in the theater named for Mabie.
The "lost" script of "Spring Storm" was discovered in
1996 by journalist and dramaturg Don Isaac in Williams papers at the
University of Texas. Isaac staged a reading in New York, and the Actors Rep
of Texas at the University of Texas produced the world premiere in 1999, closely
followed by a larger-scale production at the Marin Theatre Company in California.
And now, after more than 60 years, the first play Williams wrote as a UI
student is coming home in an all-student production.
UI students are well acquainted with producing new and sometimes unfinished
scripts by young playwrights learning the skills and tricks of the trade,
and "Spring Storm" exemplifies both the problems and the promise
of student scripts.
Critic Richard Connema wrote of the Marin production, "In Spring
Storm Mr. Williams was testing out a lot of things. His take on small
southern towns, his intuitive grasp of his characters and the faint introduction
of the characters Williams eventually used to make theater history. . . .
Unfortunately Tennessee Williams tried to cram more characters, plot and social
milieu into his drama than it can hold. . . . However, there are some sharp,
comic quips and intensely poetic passages in the play."
Michael King wrote in "The Texas Observer," "Nothing gets
a theatergoers blood rushing like a new play by Tennessee Williams.
That Poor Tom has been dead for more than 15 years hasnt dampened the
enthusiasm. . . . Spring Storm is over-long, grandiose, and often
melodramatic when not downright silly. But is has undeniable moments of the
true Williams fire, and an onrushing, romantic intensity that maintains excitement
until the explosive final moments. . . ."
Other students contributing to the "Spring Storm" production are
dramaturg Nancy Mayfield, sound designer Kirsten Johnson, costume designer
Cathy Parrott, lighting designer Scott Hosford, and set designer Luke Olsen.
Admission to "Spring Storm" will be $5 ($3 for UI students, senior
citizens and youth) at the door.
For UI arts information, visit this new address -- www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa
-- on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
A good source of information about Williams is <http://www.geocities.com/Baja/9315/tennessee.html>.