Richard Thomas To Star in A Distant Country Called Youth At WCP 8/29

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Richard Thomas To Star in A Distant Country Called Youth At WCP 8/29

In celebration of Tennessee Williams' centennial year, Westport Country Playhouse will stage a special performance by acclaimed actor Richard Thomas in "A Distant Country Called Youth," based on a collection of lively and evocative letters written by a young Tennessee Williams, on Monday, August 29, 7 p.m. Tickets to the one-night-only performance are $15.

The theatrical event will be a part of the enhanced programming surrounding The Playhouse's production of Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly Last Summer," August 23 - September 10.

"A Distant Country Called Youth" begins as the boy Thomas Lanier Williams moves through family travails and professional rejection to his first success, and concludes with the triumphal Broadway opening of "The Glass Menagerie." The letters are a remarkable blend - earnest, hilarious, anguished, touching - as the chameLeon Williams writes to family and friends, lovers and celebrities. The piece spotlights these fairly obscure 25 years in Williams' life. Here is a young Thomas Lanier Williams, growing up, exploring and finding his artistic voice as Tennessee Williams.

The production is adapted by Steve Lawson from "The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Vol. I, 1920-1945," edited by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler. When Lawson (who also directs the production) read these letters, he immediately sensed they contained the seeds of a theatrical event. He was granted permission to proceed by the Williams estate, and the adaptation premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001. It has since played at Hartford Stage (where Richard Thomas first performed it), and subsequently at theaters across America including the Kennedy Center as well as in England and Ireland.

"So much of Tennessee's correspondence involves self-invention, self-creation," noted Lawson, who worked with the playwright twice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. "You can see Tom turning into Tennessee. When I first read the letters, it was incredibly exciting to come across moments where you could see future plays forming in his mind. Adapting was a challenge because the letters are so good - I ended up using 81 out of 330, and it was a killer distilling that much. But you have to consider the load for an actor. Ultimately, my goal was to show the full range of Tennessee - the man with the ribald sense of humor, the vulnerability, as well as the serious dramatist."

Richard Thomas appeared in Westport Country Playhouse's "Critic's Choice" and "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" Most recently, he was in a reading of A. R. Gurney's "The Golden Age" on The Playhouse stage. Thomas captured the public's heart starring in the Emmy Award-winning series, "The Waltons." He has continued to star in series, films, plays and over 50 movies for television. Thomas first entered Stephen King territory with his lead role in the miniseries Stephen King's "IT." He revisited this world in the 2006 miniseries "Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King". His other television movie and miniseries credits include "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Red Badge of Courage," "Johnny Belinda," "Living Proof: The Hank Williams Story," "Hobson's Choice" and "Roots: The Next Generation." On the big screen, Thomas has appeared in such movies as "The Wonder Boys" and the Ang Lee feature "Taking Woodstock." Most recently, he was seen in the Hallmark Channel's film "Time After Time." On stage, he has been called "one of the leading classical actors of his generation," Newsday. His Broadway career began at age seven with 1958's "Sunrise at Campobello," and has continued with such shows as "Fifth of July," "The Seagull," "The Front Page," "Tiny Alice," "Peer Gynt," "Richard II," "Richard III," "Hamlet" and "The Stendhal Syndrome." Recent appearances include Broadway's "Democracy" and "Race," The Public Theater's "Timon of Athens" and the national tour of the acclaimed Broadway revival of "12 Angry Men."
Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was one of America's most prolific and important playwrights. His prodigious output included "The Glass Menagerie" (New York Drama Critics Award 1944), "A Streetcar Named Desire" (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1947), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (New York Drama Critics Award, Pulitzer Prize 1955), "Suddenly Last Summer" (1958), "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), "Night of the Iguana" (1961) and "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1963).

Steve Lawson, executive director of the Williamstown Film Festival, also adapted "Blanche and Beyond," based on more letters by Tennessee Williams. Lawson was the first literary manager at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, helping to launch the Free Theater and Cabaret and writing WTF's 50th anniversary gala. Television credits include a Christopher Award, a Humanitas Prize nomination, the adaptation of "The Elephant Man," "St. Elsewhere" (for which Lawson co-wrote the first teleplay on AIDS), and the Emmy-winning "Broadway's Dreamers: The Legacy of The Group Theatre," produced by JoAnne Woodward. Lawson has degrees from Williams College and Yale School of Drama.

A Q&A with Richard Thomas and Steve Lawson, moderated by Anne Keefe, Playhouse artistic advisor, will follow the performance.

"A Distant Country Called Youth" is supported in part through grants by the White Barn Program of the Lucille Lortel Foundation and Newman's Own Foundation. Playhouse 2011 Season Sponsor is KPMG.
About The Playhouse

Reimagining itself in recent years, Westport Country Playhouse is rapidly emerging as a nationally recognized professional theater. Under the artistic direction of Mark Lamos and management direction of Michael Ross, The Playhouse creates five live theater experiences, produced at the highest level, from April through November. Its vital mix of works---dramatic, comedic, occasionally exploratory and unusual---expands the audience's sense of what theater can be. The depth and scope of its productions display the foremost theatrical literature from the past---recent as well as distant---in addition to musicals and premieres of new plays. During the summer, The Playhouse is home to the Woodward Internship Program, renowned for the training of aspiring theater professionals. Winter at The Playhouse, from November through March, offers events outside of the main season---Family Festivities presentations, Script in Hand play readings and a Holiday Festival. In addition, businesses and organizations are encouraged to rent the handsome facility for their meetings, receptions and fundraisers.

As an historic venue, Westport Country Playhouse has had many different lives leading up to the present. Originally built in 1835 as a tannery manufacturing hatters' leathers, it became a steam-powered cider mill in 1880, later to be abandoned in the 1920s. Splendidly transformed into a theater in 1931, it initially served as a try-out house for Broadway transfers, evolving into an established stop on the New England straw hat circuit of summer stock theaters through the end of the 20th century.

Today, the not-for-profit Westport Country Playhouse serves as a cultural nexus for patrons, artists and students and is a treasured resource for the State of Connecticut. There are no boundaries to the creative thinking for future seasons or the kinds of audiences and excitement for theater that Westport Country Playhouse can build.
Westport Country Playhouse's five-play 2011 season: "Beyond Therapy," a wicked, and wickedly funny, look at the days and nights of the young and single, written by comic master Christopher Durang and directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, April 26 - May 14; "The Circle," the scintillating comedy of manners, written by W. Somerset Maugham and directed by Nicholas Martin, June 7 - June 25; "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," a perceptive comedy about people struggling against their limitations, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Mark Lamos, Playhouse artistic director, July 12 - July 30; "Suddenly Last Summer," the poetic, sensual and evocative drama, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by David Kennedy, Playhouse associate artistic director, August 23 - September 10; and "Twelfth Night, or What You Will," the beguiling comedy/romance, written by William Shakespeare and directed by Mark Lamos, October 11 - November 5.

For more information or tickets, call the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets are available online 24/7 at www.westportplayhouse.org. Stay connected to The Playhouse on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse), follow on Twitter (@WCPlayhouse), view Playhouse videos on YouTube (WestportPlayhouse) or get an insider's peek on The Playhouse Blog (www.theplayhouseblog.org).

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