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Guare play, Mexican music added to Williams fest

Playwright John Guare

A staged reading of a new play by John Guare plus a show by a Mexican singing star have been added to the 10th anniversary celebration next month of The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.

The Sept. 24-27 “Year Tenn” event already had 10 shows from around the world and various special events scheduled, but the reading of “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven” by Guare — author of “Six Degrees of Separation” and “The House of Blue Leaves” — was added recently.

Also new is Armando Aroocha, a singing/acting star of musicals, performing songs that highlight Williams’ dramatic use of Mexican music in his plays. The show replaces a musical performance by actress Alison Fraser, whose upcoming role in the premiere of “First Daughter Suite” at the Public Theater in New York conflicts with this year’s festival.

The Guare play, which festival curator David Kaplan described as “laugh-out-loud,” is an adaptation of Williams’ short story, “The Mattress by the Tomato Patch.”  The story and the play, the festival says, expose a time in young Williams’ life when he was toiling for MGM and learning about life from his Marxist landlady.

“We’re very proud to have this rare chance to share in this developing work from one of the world’s best-known playwrights,” Kaplan said in a press release. “John is a great admirer of Tennessee Williams.  He was with us at the beginning, speaking at our 2nd Annual Fest. About Williams, (Guare) said, ‘Williams has had a tremendous influence, not only on me, but on all of the American theatre. He taught me never to write a flat line. Never. To make it a moral obligation to risk lines, to put emotion in them, to make them sing.’”

The show with Mexican star Arrocha is called “Canciónes de Tennessee Williams.” In it, Williams’ words are spoken in English before, during, and after songs sung in Spanish. Conceived and directed by Kaplan, the show combines Williams’ words and the Mexican music that was often an element in several of his plays.

“Canciónes” highlights include insinuating rancheros, romantic ballads, Cuban-inspired boleros, romantic ballads from “Camino Real,” the “Rumba Rumbero” from “A Streetcar Named Desire” and a mariachi song in English written for Anthony Quinn for “The Red Devil Battery Sign.”

“Broken-hearted in Provincetown … during the summer of 1940, Williams left for Mexico that August. In Acapulco, the music he heard, often on the street, connected to him in a deep way, beyond words. For decades he included such music in his stage directions,” Kaplan explained in a press release. “Often in plays by Williams, the English-speaking audience’s understanding of what Williams says is reinforced powerfully by the audience’s emotional response to these songs, echoing Williams’ inspiration, beyond words.”

The Guare staged reading — produced by Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company in association with the Williams festival — will star Randy Harrison, Lusia Strus and Drena De Niro, along with David Elyha, Natalie Tenenbaum and Joseph W. Rodriguez. The director is Cosmin Chivu, who directed shows for the 2011 and 2013 festivals.

Harrison became well-known as the young gay teen in the TV series, “Queer as Folk,” and has since been performing in regional theaters. Strus’ film credits include “Restless,”  “Miss Congeniality 2” and playing Adam Sandler’s assistant in “50 First Dates.” Director and actress De Niro won the Best Directorial Debut for a Documentary Award at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival in 2001, and has acted in films and TV, including “Hands of Stone,” “On the Run” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Arrocha’s professional theater debut on stage was in “Les Misèrables,” and he has since been part of Mexican editions of other Broadway shows, including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mamma Mia!.”

“Canciónes de Tennessee Williams” is produced by Priscilla Alba and is sponsored by the Crown and Anchor of Provincetown.

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