Caption: Christopher Dreeson stars as Tennessee Williams in “Confessions of a Nightengale,” opening Oct. 25 at Empire Stage. Credit: Jeffrey Bruce.
Charlotte Chandler and Ray Strickland’s play “Confessions of a Nightingale” is a different kind of one-man show, warns director Jeffrey Bruce.
“It’s like sitting there and listening to Tennessee Williams,” Bruce said. “It’s 50 pages—90 minutes—of dialogue and every word was taken from his writings and interviews. He is literally speaking to the audience. There are ups and downs, the laughter, the tears. It’s very funny, too.”
Bruce was introduced to the play by actor Christopher Dreeson, who asked him to stage a performance in Fort Lauderdale at Empire Stage. The director admitted that he would have loved to tackle the role himself.
“I read it and absolutely flipped,” Bruce recalled.
Bruce had directed Dreeson before, in a production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and knew the actor was perfect for the role, even if he might not be an obvious choice to portray Williams.
“Chris doesn’t really resemble Tennessee Williams, so we didn’t strive for an impersonation. Instead, we work from within—the appetizer rather than the main course—digging into [Williams’] emotions and motivation,” Bruce explained.
Before rehearsals began in earnest, Dreeson was “off book” and the entire show was staged in just two days. Bruce called Dreeson a “master technician” who allowed him to attempt innovative staging choices.
Throughout the performance, Dreeson’s Williams breaks the fourth wall and addresses and even converses with the audience, again using the writer’s own words.
“It’s going to be more of a salon, where wonderful people go to share ideas and views,” Bruce said. “Audiences are going to be thrilled for 90 minutes meeting and talking with Tennessee Williams.”
“Confessions” is not strictly a gay play, but offers Empire Stage’s predominately LGBT audiences a sobering look at the life of a prominent gay man in the 1940s and ‘50s and “the box he had to live in,” Bruce said, noting the play gave him a new appreciation for the writer.
“I learned that he was a gentleman to the Nth degree. He had more charm than anyone I’ve ever listened to. He was a lot more introspective and was able to do something that is hard to do, which is to be objective about a subjective situation. He never complained really. He had a challenging relationship with his sister who had a lobotomy, awful parents, his childhood,” said Bruce.
“I already knew each (of his plays) had some autobiographical substance to it, but that was fascinating and audiences are going to love it,” Bruce concluded.
Christopher Dreeson stars as Tennessee Williams in “Confessions of a Nightingale,” Oct. 25 – Nov. 11 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at EmpireStage.com.