Local playwright unveils work on Tennessee Williams

Monday, September 4, 2017 - 5:16pm

It all began when LSA Junior Max Vinogradov and his good friend Jackson Abohasira decided to make short films together, creating funny scripts to match their ideas. Those short films turned into a series of small projects that combined creativity with a touch of theatre.

Vinogradov recently won the Hopwood award in Drama, and the Dennis McIntyre Prize for his play, “A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams.” The Slipstream Theatre Initiative, located in Ferndale, MI, has taken Vinogradov’s script to the stage. In addition to Vinogradov’s success, Abohasira, who plays Andy Warhol and Marlon Brando in the show, recently won the Wilde Award for Rising Star.

“Moving it from writing to the stage is an awesome thing and a bad thing,” Vinogradov said. “You look at this precious thing that you wrote and you’re like ‘this is what I was thinking about,’ but at the same time, so much of it is letting the actors discover the characters themselves.”

The play explores the life of Tennessee Williams, an American playwright that revolutionized 20th-century drama in America with works such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Vinogradov’s play, “A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams,” projects a series of Williams’ memories, which include numerous stars, like Frank Merlo, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Marlon Brando and Greta Garbo, among others, who come to Williams with hopes of landing a role in one of his plays.

The play moves through a series of memories, recalling the lives of stars that brought Williams’s scripts to life. Though the connects scenes with iconic figures, they are somewhat obstructed by Williams’s recollection of the past.

“He (Williams) was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, so his memories are destroyed, in many senses,” Vinogradov explained. “He is trying to change the memories he recalls, because there are things he really screwed up, and relationships he is trying to save — but he really can’t.”

With extensive research into Williams’s life, Vinogradov grew to understand the playwright’s lasting impact.

“Williams made the memory play. I think what a lot of it has to do with is what we choose to remember," Vinogradov said. "In his blackouts due to alcohol, he has lost all these good memories, and the things that withstood were traumas that were just too great to be deleted. They persisted and the question is: Is that a choice?”

Through the making of this piece, Vinogradov grappled with questions of what we choose to remember. Vinogradov found that the more he thought about these questions, the more they emerged through Williams’s memoirs.

“Marlon Brando, for example, was just recently discovered to have raped a woman on set,” Vinogradov said. “This icon for so many of us just instantly fell to ashes. At first I kind of wrote him as a monster. And then I had to come to terms with that being a little too easy.”

In understanding human flaws that can’t be removed from remaking a memory, Vinogradov creates the depth that his characters demand.

“How do you make him complicated without forgiving him? The way we kind of learned that … the person who hates him more than anyone else is himself. That was a really delicate thing to dance around,” Vinogradov said.

While discussing character relationships, and sharing about what each actor has brought to each role, Vinogradov found that the actors discovered elements of the script that he wasn’t even aware existed. Through these elements, two main themes rest at the heart of Vinogradov’s script.

“The first is the idea that for something to really be beautiful, it needs to have ugliness. Beauty is a direct perspective of something else we are looking at. In order for you to have lived a beautiful life and a good life, you have to recognize the ugly things that happened,” Vinogradov said. “The other thing that really impacted me is the idea that you are not what you’ve done, but what you do. You can become the person you want to be.”

Despite the rather tragic events that unfold in the play, the audience is left with an overwhelming sense of optimism.

“When you are put in the midst of such horrible things — we as human beings are awesome. We are going to find things to grasp onto and love.”