From the Eyes of a Spectator: AMERICAN BLUES

On April 10, 2014, I went to the play American Blues by Tenessee Williams. It was directed by Jason Hale, and the characters were played by Baran Can Eraslan, Barbaros Efe Türkay, Beste Güven, Melisa Su Taşkıran who are all junior students in the Faculty of Music and Performing Arts, Performing Arts Department at Bilkent University.  One of the reasons why I chose American Blues is that it was written by Tenesse Williams as he is one of the prominent authors and playwrights of the world literature.  He was born on March 26, 1911, in Mississippi, the US. He stood out, towards the end of the World War II with The Glass Menagerie on his upsetting past. He got good reviews and had important roles in the theatre and cinema circles. A Streetcar Named Desire, another success play by him,  guaranteed his reputation in addition to many awards such as two Pulitzer Prizes. He is also an important figure in screenplays, teleplays, short stories and poetry. In his writings is seen the influence of Anton Chekhov, William Shakespeare, W. Faulkner, E. Dickinson. His one-act plays This Property is Condemned and Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen take place mostly in dialogues. He died in 1981 at the age of 70. When it comes to the director Jason Hale, he is an American actor, director and instructor, born in 1971. It can be said that he is most interested in Tenessee Williams plays as he directed The Glass Menagerie by him at the National Turkish State Theatre, which gained Best Actress Award from the Ankara Arts Council and Best Theatre Artist of the Year Award from the Baykal Saran Theatre Award. He still teaches at Bilkent University.

The performance was at the Bilkent Chamber Theatre which is a small one and the audience were just in front of the stage, without any distance between the performance and them. As the plays were one-act plays, there was no change in the atmosphere during the play. The audience was seated as in the ancient theatres and arenas. So, the stage was visible, and being a small room, the auditorium was sincere with wooden chairs.

            The plays were This Property is Condemned and Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen. The former is about two characters, one girl and one boy, living in a town in Mississippi in the 30s. The girl is named Willie. She meets a boy Tom having skipped school that day. The setting is in the railroad where they meet. We get an insight into Willie’s life and inner world. She lives alone as her sister, also whose clothes Willie now wears, the only relative of hers, has died. Tom looks at her with curious eyes and sometimes gets closer to her, even touching her, helping her walk on the rails. They talk about their mutual friend Frank Waters who occasionally visits Willie. She reflects her loneliness in her melancholic way of talking, sometimes at intervals. After talking about the mutual friend and the life of Willie, she walks away from the scene and the play ends. The mood is depressing and melancholic as we are informed about the weary life of Willie though it is a hot summer day. The play makes its route through dialogues. It is mostly related to their situation and there is the theme of loneliness (i.e., of Willie). The climax or the catharsis of the play is when Willie talks about her life and recalls Frank Waters while at the same time they hear the train coming. The audience are observers only, not intervening in the play. Lastly, the play is realistic as there is a possible situation and events without anything mysterious; it is expressionistic and impressionistic as it reveals the inner life of Willie as if a kind of theatrical stream of consciousness.

            As for Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen,  the spectators see a man who has just woken up and tries to know where he has been and a woman who sits by the bed. The time is in the 50s on a hot rainy day. The setting is the bedroom. They talk about one by one like a dialogue but they do not listen to each other: while the man speaks, the woman looks deeply at the outside and while the woman speaks, the man sleeps. So, it can be seen that it is based on monologues. Again, in this play, there is a melancholic atmosphere with insights into the characters’ minds. The play goes slowly and calmly in contrast to the fire in the hearts of the characters. The peak point is when the woman speaks loudly and is hugged by the man as if they are about to make love and then the woman says that she wants to leave that place, and while it rains cats and dogs. The possible theme, I think, is that women are seen as slaves, concluding from the fact that she hesitates to say she wants to go out and abandon that place. As it is in the same stage and the same theatre, it is parallel with This Property is Condemned and the audience’s role does not change. Another parallel feature is that the play is realist as it is a real-life situation, and expressionistic and impressionistic as it too indicates the inner worlds of the characters and their moods, feelings.

            The production was intelligently-weaved like the settings which fit the situations and the dialogues, and the music, especially blues tunes in the former and rain sound in the latter play made them more affective and more expressionistic. As they are one-act play, the setting did not change while the mood went up and down with the ups-and-downs of the dialogues or speeches.
            In the first play, the banana Willie was holding got my attention and later on, when she shared it with Tom, I understood that this way they got to know each other well through creating fondness and warmness in their hearts, which makes the play smartly designed with cause-and-effect logic. And that the girl was wearing a heavy make-up attracted my attention but I afterwards realized that it was a way of showing that she could handle anything on her own like an adult. On the other hand, there were logical mistakes in Let Me Talk Like the Rain and Let Me Listen such as the luggages under the bed though the man did not clearly remember where he was (but before this, it was assumed that they were in a relationship) and had scars on his chest and it seemed to be a one-night stand. There were no other amazing / disappointing elements except for the play itself.
            Ultimately, during the play, there was not much to react to as it was in a calm atmosphere. The audience sat silently and watched the plays. Also, I believe the audience did not know much about the content of the performances and the messages because they were surprised when the plays ended without resolution and any relation between each other. They could not know if it was a break or the end of the play. This surprised expression on their faces was obvious. After all, I enjoyed the performances with my friends and left the theatre satisfied with the actors’ effort.

                                                                                                  İsmail Kaygısız, ELIT III

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