Vampires, ghosts, aliens, and spaceships aren’t what usually spring to mind when considering the work of Tennessee Williams.
Even though the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival has long distinguished itself for its deep dives into the prolific playwright’s lesser-known and experimental works, the lineup for “Tennessee Williams: Science Fiction and Fantasy” is particularly out of this world.
“Williams is associated, in his conventional work, with kitchen sink realism and grim melancholy. That’s not this season,” said festival curator David Kaplan. “The whole thing is meant to be fun.”
Running Thursday through Sunday at various locations around Provincetown, theater artists from South Africa, Cyprus, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Illinois, Minneapolis, New York, New Orleans, and Cape Cod will present plays, short stories, and unfinished works by Williams that showcase his lifelong fascination with science fiction and fantasy.
Kaplan conceived the futuristic theme for the festival’s 18th season when he read that 16-year-old Thomas Lanier (not yet Tennessee) Williams in 1928 published a short story, “The Vengeance of Nitocris,” in the popular pulp magazine “Weird Tales.” Even though it’s set in ancient Egypt, Williams’s tale of a sister who avenges the death of her brother shows traces of what would become recurring themes.
Festival veterans Fred Abrahamse and Marcel Meyer of Capetown, South Africa, will present their adaptation of “The Vengeance of Nitocris” on a double bill with Williams’s bawdy one-act fantasy “The Pronoun ‘I’” about a murderous Mad Queen May. Abrahamse and Meyer will also stage “The Knightly Quest,” based on a Williams novella, about a gay vampire who escapes via spaceship from an American military state.
One of the festival’s trademarks is inviting theater companies from around globe to offer their interpretations of Williams’s work. Director Marios Mettis, whose production of ”The Magic Tower” was a hit at last year’s festival, returns with his ensemble from Cyprus to stage Williams’s early full-length science fiction fantasy play “Stairs to the Roof.”
Also returning is director Brenna Geffers, co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Die-Cast ensemble, who will direct this year’s “Hotel Plays,” a festival tradition since 2009. Audiences will shuttle among different rooms at the Harbor Hotel to view three short works by Williams. These include the eerie boardinghouse of “The Strange Play”; the young man waiting in a desert after a nuclear war in “The Chalky White Substance”; and the devotee of an unnamed saint who offers an eyewitness account of an ascent to heaven in “Chronicle of a Demise.”
The festival is designed to provide audiences with a cumulative experience, said Kaplan, as the plays “reflect on each other and comment on each other.” One- or two-day passes allow out-of-town visitors to see several productions over the course of a short visit.
For more information on the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival and a complete schedule, go to www.twptown.org.