StageQ Brings Tennessee Williams to Madison with Rare Play and Academic Talk

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StageQ has assembled a Tennessee Williams take-over of Madison this spring, beginning with the fundraising lecture event "Toasting Tennessee Williams" which will be hosted at the Mendota Lake House B&B on March 17 and culminating with the opening of Williams' rarely staged psychological mystery "Suddenly Last Summer" opening on March 23 at the Bartell Theatre. The social event will include preview performances by the cast and a talk entitled "Corruption & Renaissance" by Professor Tom Mitchell, Associate Head of the Department of Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, coving the evolution of Williams they playwright during the period when "Suddenly Last Summer" was written.

The plot of Suddenly Last Summer centers on Catharine Holly, played by Jaclyn June Johnson, who after witnessing the murder of her cousin Sebastian suffers a breakdown and is sent to a psychiatric hospital. When Sebastian's mother, Violet. Venable, played by Peggy Rosin, invites a psychiatrist to question Catharine about her story, she paints a picture so graphic it's truly unbelievable. Mrs. Venable would rather not believe it and fights to keep her son's secrets secret. This haunting piece explores how far a mother will go to preserve her son's reputation.

"The poetry in this play - a Southern Gothic thriller - is not to be overlooked," says director Jim Chiolino. "The audience is taken on a rollercoaster ride while the characters try to find the 'truth.' What really happened to Sebastian Venable?"

StageQ invites us to explore the history of the play and of the playwright at a special fundraising event Toasting Tennessee Williams, on March 17. Share drinks and small bites at the historic Mendota Lake House mansion and be transported to the New Orleans Garden District, the setting for Suddenly Last Summer.

Jim Chiolino and members of the cast will offer exclusive preview performances of select scenes, whetting the appetite of theater lovers.

Anchoring the event will be Williams scholar, Professor Tom Mitchell, who will speak about the personal, social, and artistic context of this Williams one-act play, with a focus on the concept of corruption of the artist. Through much of his early writing, Williams depicted artists (writers, musicians, dancers and visual artists) as romantic crusaders - often pursuing progressive political and social causes. As he reached a midpoint in his work, Williams recognized that he had sold out in some of his own idealism and he recognized how an artist could become corrupted. Not long after this play, Williams suffered a personal collapse followed by a period in which he redoubled his creative risk-taking.

Picking up on the breakdown referenced by Mitchell, Jim Chiolino notes, "This play came out of Williams's psychoanalysis and is a compelling view of the author's fascinating mind through his fully realized characters, haunting poetry, and violent imagery. This is a masterpiece that is often forgotten."

David Waugh, proprietor of this charming B&B was drawn to the initiative as a fervent supporter of the queer community and the arts. "It is important for Bob and me to support the LGBTQ community and StageQ is an important organization locally," says Waugh. "Plus, Tennessee Williams is hands down my favorite playwright and I am thrilled that StaqeQ is bringing Suddenly Last Summer to life."

The venue itself aptly supports StageQ's mission to increase the visibility of queer plays and playwrights. Waugh explains, "All our guest rooms at the B&B are named after gay writers, including a Tennessee Williams room. It often reminds me that in the hospitality business, we 'always depend on the kindness of strangers," riffs Waugh, referencing the famous quote by Blanche DuBois in the Williams classic A Streetcar Named Desire.

Suddenly Last Summer Details
When: March 23 - April 7
Where: Bartell Theatre, 113 E Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703
Tickets: $20. Available online at or by calling the Bartell Theatre Box Office at 608-661-9696

Toasting Tennessee Williams Details
When: March 17, 6:30-9:30 PM
Where: Mendota Lake House B&B, 704 East Gorham Street, Madison, WI 53703
Tickets: $35 suggested donation. Available online at

About Stage Q:
Founded in 2001, StageQ provides a stable home for queer-themed plays within the broader Madison theater community. StageQ's mission continues to celebrate queer diversity through quality theater written by and about LGBTQ people, building an inclusive community and affecting positive social change. For more information on StageQ and upcoming productions, visit

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Aaron Schliem
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