Tennessee Rising

Jacob Storms portrays a young Tennessee Williams in Tennessee Rising at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. Original photo by Ride Hamilton.
How accurate is Jacob Storms' portrayal of Tennessee Williams?

By Andrew Andrews

After countless failures to gain recognition for his work, Tom Williams fraudulently entered a contest under the pen name Tennessee to win a special award created just for him, leading to a Rockefeller Foundation grant and eventual notoriety as one of America's greatest playwrights.

In Tennessee Rising, a small audience sprawls across the patio behind The Cell Theatre as Tennessee himself recalls those formative years in a monologue that passes like a series of short visits over time, recounting important life events in locations that range from NOLA to St Louis, LA, Miami, Boston, Chicago and, of course, New York City.

After making his entrance with a drink in his hand and his shirt unbuttoned and untucked, Williams slowly dresses for his company as he speaks of his attempt to experience life and make ends meet before finally fulfilling his ambition.

We were undoubtedly excited to attend our first live theatre performance in months, and The Cell's tranquil patio garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon would be the perfect venue for any small spring production, even if we weren't recovering from a pandemic.

The sold-out performance felt even more intimate, thanks to social distancing, the cast of one, and the audience capped at fewer than twenty persons. Even if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I would have felt completely safe and comfortable in attending.

Actor and playwright Jacob Storms delivers a perfect portrayal of Tennessee Williams, compared to interviews of the legend available online. In fact, some of the character’s spoken recollections seem to be based largely on stories recounted by Williams first-hand in those recordings, such as a tale about a restaurant owner mentioned during an interview by Dick Cavett in the 1970s.

Despite its authenticity, the performance didn’t hold my interest as much as a play by Williams himself. At times I felt as though I were cornered at a party listening to a bore drop the name of every famous and not-so-famous person he’d ever met, and although the narrative was much more personal and detailed than the Wikipedia article on the subject, I didn’t find it much more engrossing.

Nonetheless, any chance to catch a live performance is most welcome right now, and at twenty bucks a seat, the price of attending is easy to justify, and makes this show a wonderful value. You might not rave about the production to your friends, but you’ll certainly appreciate the opportunity to get out of the house and in front of a stage, especially considering the serene setting with dappled sunlight, chirping birds and the living likeness of the up-and-coming Tennessee.

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Andrew Andrews attended Tennessee Rising at The Cell Theatre Garden in New York on Sunday, April 25, 2021 @ 6:00pm to write this review.

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