Tennessee Williams tribute set for Monday

Marian Gallaway

Marian Gallaway

Demopolis fans of Tennessee Williams have a unique opportunity March 2 to enjoy readings of his works and a little extra.

The 6 p.m. event, free and open to the public, is part of the 2015 Southern Literary Trail. Six University of Alabama actors, under the direction of Allison Hetzel, have prepared scenes from “The Glass Menagerie,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” for the tribute to Williams.

But local theater lovers also will hear the story of Gaius Whitfield and Edwina Dakin, Williams’ mother, as told by Jennifer Roemen and Laurie Willingham. Susanna Naisbett will have remarks about forthcoming production of “Menagerie” by the Canebrake Players April 24-26.

Flutist Wanda Dunklin and Beth Mason, violinist, will perform in the parlor for patrons as they arrive at Gaineswood. The performance will be held in the historic home’s drawing room.

“I think we will have an extraordinary night next Monday,” said William Gantt, Demopolis native and director of the SLT. The tribute is a feature of Trailfest 2015, the SLT’s biennial celebration throughout Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Two relationships from West Alabama influenced the plays written by Williams, born in Columbus, Miss. The young banker Gaius Whitfield of Demopolis engaged in a courtship of the playwright’s mother Edwina Dakin, as documented in her surviving diaries and a romantic post card to her from Gaius of his ancestral home Gaineswood.  Gaius entered literary history when he became a role model for one of the “gentleman callers” immortalized on stage by Williams in his play “The Glass Menagerie.”

Williams and Marian Gallaway of Tuscaloosa remained lifelong friends after their student days together at The University of Iowa, and he named characters in his plays for her. Gallaway claimed to be his role model for Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She became the first full-time Director of the UA Theatre, now named for her.

The event also will include commentaries by regional scholars of theater Dr. Kenneth Holditch, who knew Williams, and Dr. Edmond Williams, a friend of Gallaway.

Holditch, author of Tennessee Williams and the South, will discuss Edwina Dakin as a role model for the domineering mother, Amanda Wingfield, of The Glass Menagerie.

Six University of Alabama actors will be performing scenes from Tennessee Williams plays on Monday. Top row, left to right:  Elizabeth Bernhardt, Andrea Love, Allison Hetzel. Bottom row,  left to right:  Michael Witherell, Julia Martin, Sarah Jean Peters. Photo by David Durham.

Six University of Alabama actors will be performing scenes from Tennessee Williams plays on Monday. Top row, left to right: Elizabeth Bernhardt, Andrea Love, Allison Hetzel.
Bottom row, left to right: Michael Witherell, Julia Martin, Sarah Jean Peters.
Photo by David Durham.

Ed Williams succeeded Gallaway as director of the University Theatre.   He became the first chairman of the newly formed Department of Theatre and Dance at UA in 1979.

The program is a collaboration by the UA Department of Theatre and Dance with the Southern Literary Trail, the Friends of Gaineswood and the Canebrake Players in Demopolis. It will be repeated on the Marian Gallaway Theatre stage at UA in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Both events are free thanks to grant support from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Writing in his Foreword for a book by Marian Gallaway Constructing a Play (1950), her friend Williams said the director “lived and breathed theatre and somehow managed to infect her associates with her own religious excitement about it.”

In the book, Gallaway describes the playwright’s first success, “The Glass Menagerie,” as an autobiographical play by Williams “about himself and certain members of his family.”

Those “certain members” included his mother Edwina Dakin and her courtship by a young banker from Demopolis, Gaius Whitfield.

Tennessee Williams used Gallaway’s last name repeatedly for characters in his plays including Dorothea Gallaway of A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. A tireless promoter of the University Theatre, “Doc Gallaway,” as nicknamed by her students, retired in 1973 and died in 1980.  Her friend Tennessee died on February 26, 1983.

Full details about these programs, in addition to a complete calendar for Trailfest 2015, may be found in the Alabama Calendar of the Southern Literary Trail’s website at www.southernliterarytrail.org.