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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

"A Woman Left Lonely": A tribute to Tennessee Williams

Victoria Keith ’23 (left) and Ben Knudsen ’23 (right) in “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen."
Victoria Keith ’23 (left) and Ben Knudsen ’23 (right) in “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen."

Victoria Keith’s ’23 senior thesis, “A Woman Left Lonely,” directed by Bri Beach ’23 and Sophie Butler-Rahman ’25, was an amalgamation of three Tennessee Williams plays: “This Property is Condemned,” “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” 

Following “ROSPO” and “Somewhere” in a series of student-directed plays in Hepburn Zoo, “A Woman Left Lonely” was a powerful feminist tribute to American playwright Tennessee Williams. Keith chose to display Williams’ work because she felt like the style and dialogue of his plays reflected many of her own innermost thoughts and worries. After rummaging through her great-grandparents' old playbills from the 1940s and 50s, Keith was reminded that the characters and themes in Williams’ plays are just as relevant now as they were three generations ago.

Set in mid-20th-century America, the show opened with “This Property is Condemned,” a short play about Willie, an adolescent, orphaned girl living alone in a rural railroad town. Willie idolizes her deceased older sister, Alva, for her beauty and social status. A simple backdrop of silhouetted branches projected on white screens and a few black acting blocks accentuate Willie’s search for purpose and acceptance as she faces the world alone. 

Next was “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let me Listen,” a short play about a couple whose relationship has frayed. The only props on the stage were a window frame, a bed, a glass of water and a chair. The boyfriend, played by Ben Knudsen ’23, recounts the abuse he suffered while unconscious. This play portrays society as perpetually unfair, as the rich enjoy lavish meals with endless alcohol while the protagonist wakes up with burns, bruises and mental trauma floating in a bathtub of ice and beer. Through this depiction of class, Williams elucidates the brutally inescapable boundaries of our society. The woman in the scene, played by Keith, does not engage with her boyfriend’s displeasure and unsatisfying existence. Instead, she dreams of escaping to a hotel on the sea where nobody knows her. But this never happens. The pair spend 50 years in isolation, receiving checks, reading books and growing old as they fail to find happiness and meaning in modern America.

The third and final scene of the one-hour performance was an excerpt from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Brick, an alcoholic played by Zack Maluccio ’23, gloomily drinks while his wife prepares for his father’s funeral. Margaret, played by Keith, slowly puts on makeup while trying to seduce Brick after confessing to sleeping with his best friend Skipper back in college. Feeling threatened, Brick violently attacks Margaret with his crutch. In the meantime, Margaret debates whether to stay with Brick despite his alcoholism and lack of sexual desire. However, she struggles to leave him because thanks to Brick’s wealth, their marriage has allowed her to reach a higher socioeconomic class.

“I think it was truly interesting to see… that there was a lot of muteness and at the very end, all the scenes came in with a lot of intensity that really hit home, sort of the prowess that the acting brought,” audience member Urian Vasquez ’25 said. 

According to the playbill notes, the three scenes together explore the themes of “illusion, truth, and the performances we all put on to make life more bearable” through their dueling male and female monologues. 

“It was a really cool process to be a part of because it's a very nontraditional show in a way with two short plays and one short scene,” Butler-Rahman said after the show. “It was just really cool to see how Victoria curated everything and put it all together.” 

By weaving together Tennessee Williams’ unresolved tragic stories about an isolated daughter, a trapped girlfriend and an empowered wife in “A Woman Left Lonely,” Keith attacked the core futility of human existence.