As a result, the Tennessee Williams Centennial Festival — performances and talks that have taken over the theaters, lecture halls and libraries — is a wide-ranging exploration of a dramatist whose works survey a poetic American landscape of wounded souls. The participants include such luminaries as Edward Albee, Christopher Durang and John Waters. Although some events in the festival have already begun, Albee opens the central birthday weekend of the event Thursday night with a keynote conversation about the playwright, while Waters closes it Sunday with his own solo work, “This Filthy World.”
The extravaganza easily qualifies as the most ambitious consideration of a playwright ever undertaken by Georgetown, which in recent years has established itself as the region’s most imaginative academic outpost for drama. “I feel like it’s special and idiosyncratic enough to be for Williams lovers, and large and informative enough for a campus that might not know who the guy is,” Goldman says.
Comprehensive treatments of writers for the stage are all the rage in Washington at the moment: Arena Stage is in the midst of a large-scale examination of Albee’s work, built around a sterling revival of his “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” At the same time, Studio Theatre has embarked, with the excellent Druid Theatre production of “Penelope,” on a major presentation of the plays of Irish dramatist Enda Walsh.
Gaining playgoers’ attention in this festival glut is by no means a cinch. But organizers of the Williams Centennial Festival are hoping that the unusual variety of material that has been assembled will illuminate the playwright — who was born a century ago Saturday — in ways that a more conventional festival cannot.
The plays to be performed encompass familiar titles in full stagings (“The Glass Menagerie,” featuring Sarah Marshall) as well as experimental works inspired by Williams’s life and art, such as “The Really Big Once,” by the adventurous New York troupe Target Margin. The bill will be filled out with rarely seen one-acts (“I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow”), biographical portraits of the writer (Doug Tompos’s “Bent to the Flame”) and readings of works such as “Camino Real,” an expressionistic Williams play that flopped on Broadway in 1953.
Kathleen Chalfant, best known for her roles in the original productions of the Pulitzer-winning “Angels in America” and “Wit,” is among the actors recruited for the readings. She is drawn to some of the offbeat pieces that at first failed or over the years have been rescued from Williams’s archives. “I love those strange, later, often unsuccessful plays, for the courage of them,” she says. “Both the stylistic and emotional courage of them. He took every chance there ever was.”