Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why "Lend Me a Tenor" Made It onto our Signature Season

Posted by Bruce Miller
All right. I won't start out with a fib.

I wanted the first show in our 2011-12 Signature Season to be Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams. When Carol Piersol told me about her idea for a Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival in Richmond, and invited Barksdale to join in with the Firehouse and Triangle Players, I was VERY excited and I wanted to participate. (The pic of Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter, to the right, appears on the Firehouse website as a sort of Festival logo. You can visit for more information.)

I knew Summer and Smoke was the perfect show for us to enter into the Festival, because:
a. it's my favorite Williams play,
b. it's been on my list of plays I'm very eager to direct for a long time, and
c. Barksdale co-founder Stu Falconer left his job as stage manager of the landmark Off Broadway production of Summer and Smoke when he moved to Richmond in 1953 to co-found B'dale.

But life is made up of tough choices. Another project that will be taking place during the coming year, about which I am equally passionate, is our upcoming partnership with Cadence Theatre Company, and our co-pros of Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay Abaire, August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, and In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl.

Once Phil, Tracy and I started adding up every nickel and dime that will make up our $5 million annual operating budget, it became clear that I had to choose between partnering with Firehouse and Triangle on the Tennessee Williams Festival or partnering with Anna Johnson on the Cadence co-pros. Obviously, I chose the latter.

But I can't wait to see the great programs planned for the Tennessee Williams Festival, and I encourage everyone to give this exciting Richmond event your full support, even if Barksdale is unable to be involved.

What those pesky budget figures made obvious was that I needed to open our 2011-12 Signature Season with a comedy instead of a drama. The simple truth is this: at Barksdale (maybe everywhere), comedies sell more tickets that dramas. Besides, for the last 58 years, our mission at Barksdale has been to create in Central Virginia national caliber productions of the GREAT comedies, dramas and musicals--past, present and future. I'm proud that we produce our fair share of each.

And I LOVE comedies. Who doesn't. Especially great American comedies like our opening production - Lend Me a Tenor.

When exploring comedies written for the stage, there are several time-honored traditions to celebrate, one of which is farce.

A farce seeks to entertain its audience by placing likable (if often misbehaving) characters within improbable and exaggerated situations. The stakes are high; discovery and disaster seem imminent. The characters negotiate their treacherous circumstances, often at break-neck speed, using trickery, mistaken identity, disguised persons or voices, and verbal humor of varying degrees of sophistication. Physical comedy, linguistic nonsense, slamming doors and broadly stylized performances are staples of theatrical farce.

Not counting our musicals (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, for one, includes many aspects of farce) Barksdale's previous farces include:
* Boeing-Boeing (a French farce written in 1960; revived at Hanover Tavern earlier this summer),
* Is He Dead? (written by Mark Twain in 1898; produced at Willow Lawn in 2010),
* No Sex Please, We're British (an English farce written in 1971; produced at Hanover Tavern in 2006), and
* Scapino! (an English adaptation of a 1671 Moliere classic, adapted in 1971; revived at Willow Lawn in 2005).

The last time we staged a contemporary American farce was our 1993 Hanover Tavern production of Arthur Kopit's wacky Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad. Wow. Who knew it had been nearly two decades since Barksdale produced a contemporary American farce.

In our current sociopolitical environment, American farces seem particularly apt. That's why I decided it was time to end our 18-year fast. As I reviewed the GREAT contemporary American farces, Lend Me a Tenor was right there waiting for me at the top of the heap.

I'm excited that the show is now about to open. I hope to see you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller


philcrosby said...

Bruce --

At least there will be a version of "Summer and Smoke" as a part of the Festival, when we screen the made-for-television production of "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" -- starring Blythe Danner and Frank Langella -- at Richmond Triangle Players on Tuesday, October 11. Tickets are just $5. Hope you can make it and share some more Williams memories!!

philcrosby said...

You can also find full information about the Tennessee William Centennial Celebration at the website -- Would you mind putting the link in the main part of this wonderful blog post? Thanks!! -- Phil

debra wagoner said...

I feel compelled to tell you that the picture you have from the film A Streetcar Named Desire is not Vivien Leigh with Brando. It is Kim Hunter, who played Stella. As in the famous scene when Stanley stands in the rain and yells STEELLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAA! Later on Kim Hunter became so well known for the Planet of the Apes movies, which is fine, but I feel that she was a really wonderful actress. And great in this film. Hope you don't mind the correction. :-)

Bruce Miller said...

Sometimes I'm dazzled by my own stupid mistakes. Thank you Debra. You are, of course, right. He wasn't yelling "BLLLAAAANNNCH!", now was he? I've made the correction, and greatly appreciate your leading me gently back into the light when I fall helplessly into my dotage.