The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company always brings Tennessee Williams's work to life with style and flair. And their latest performance, Not About Nightingales, just might be one of their strongest productions yet.
Set in a state penitentiary somewhere (think, Alcatraz: hardened criminals, maximum security, and only accessible by ferry), the dramatic play focuses on an eclectic group of convicts. While they all put up a tough-guy, bad-ass front, they have much more complexity and vulnerability going on beneath the surface.
"Queen" (Gavin Robinson) worries about the current condition of his fingernails. Swifty (Christopher Robinson), known as Mr. Olympics, wants to train for the next big games. And "Canary Jim" (Zeb Hollins III) likes big words, books, and poems (just as long as the poems are "not about nightingales").
The group is at the mercy of a cruel and sadistic warden (Joseph Furnari), who, when not torturing the convicts, spends his time making sexual advances on the newly hired prison stenographer, Eva Crane (Nicole Himel). Warden Whalen sees to it that the men are made to eat only hamburgers, beans, and spaghetti—every single day—to the point of nausea and illness. Fed up with being overfed the inedible, the men—led by ringleader Butch O'Fallon (Sean Richmond)—decide to go on a hunger strike rather than suffer through another miserable meatball. But for this, they will suffer instead at the hands of the warden for disobeying him and refusing to eat. He throws them all in "the hole," or, even worse, in a 150-degree heated torture chamber known as Klondike.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, an unlikely romance between Eva and Jim develops and remains at the center of the action.
Every character in this play is portrayed with emotion and expertise; every performance is heartfelt and convincing. The set is simple and understated, dark and appropriately dreary. Even the constant sound effects of typewriters and prison cell doors opening and closing add an element of authenticity—as well as some eeriness and gloom—to the overall ambiance. Between the actors pulling you into their world and the corresponding scenery, this production presents a real glimpse into both life behind bars and life in general.
In an unusual setting that most of us will hopefully never see first-hand, Not About Nightingales addresses a wide variety of issues and ideas. There is love, abuse, humor, struggle, conviction, and devotion. There is even a giant rubber ducky, French singing, a bit of madness, and plenty of spaghetti. And in today's current state of affairs, with sexual harassment and other abuses of power at the forefront of the collective mind, this play really strikes a chord.
Not About Nightingales is only playing for one more weekend. Don't miss out. Because while only Tennessee Williams could put such a play into writing, only the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company can do it justice on stage.
Not About Nightingales is directed by Augustin J. Correro. It is playing Friday, December 15, and Saturday, December 16, at 8 p.m., at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Art Center. 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. For more information or to buy tickets, click HERE.