Plays in which a solo performer takes on the mantle of a historical figure and essentially recites their potted biography while speaking in the first person as that character are ten-a-penny on the Fringe. In which case, the way to stand out from the crowd is to make something which feels considerably more expensive than just a single penny. Oregon-raised, New York-based actor Jacob Storms has nailed the formula, because his bioplay on the immediate pre-fame years of the great American playwright Tennessee Williams is a touch of class.
Originally directed by Alan Cumming – which has doubtless driven many people to see it, not that it needs a celebrity boost – Tennessee Rising doesn’t break from the usual formula, but Storms’ impersonation of Williams’ soft Southern drawl and his investment in his emotional journey is strong.
Set between the years 1939 and 1945, when Williams was beginning to break through as a writer, but before his breakthrough success with The Glass Menagerie at the end of this period, we find Williams hunting “the bitch goddess known as success”, while investing more in his youthful sex life than in his career. There’s a lot of dry comedy in there (particularly bitchily amusing is a line about learning to not give Lana Turner too many syllables during his Hollywood years), and also tragedy. Young male dancer Kip Kiernan, who Williams had an affair with, until Kiernan broke his heart by marrying a woman and then died tragically young in 1944, is a central figure. Storms gives us not only the detail of these events, but also the feeling.