Williams Festival rated ‘biggest and best ever’

CLARKSDALE – “The biggest and best“ Tennessee Williams Festival made history in Clarksdale over the weekend, according to locals and visitors from Oxford and Memphis to Florida, Kansas, California, and The Netherlands.

The unique mix of scholarly lectures laced with live drama, music, gourmet food, porch plays, and acting competitions evoked dialogues from a diverse audience of high school and college students, teachers and other adults.

“Excellent” was the rating on every Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival evaluation form except one that ranked it “spectacular.”

“This was the very best festival ever,” writes Ann Fisher-Wirth of Oxford, who’s been participating for years as a scholar and judge of the student drama competition.

“The festival is a beautiful expression of the power of art and the human spirit,” writes Eda Holmes, associate director of Canada’s Shaw Festival, who attended for the first time.

Her colleague, Severn Thompson, a professional actor who portrayed Maggie Pollitt from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, calls the festival “amazing.”

“It was such a magical experience for me and gave me a whole new view of Tennessee Williams and the South,” she writes.

“I’ve only been home for a few hours and am not quite adjusted – I keep looking for those beautiful old houses with inviting porches,” she continues.

Panel moderator Colby Kullman calls the program “incredible;” keynote speaker Kenneth Holditch “dynamic; “ and praises panelists Ralph Voss, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Coop Cooper, and Dorothy Shawhan.

“Best of all, the audience performed like never before, “he continued.

Celebrating its 19th season, the festival kicked off Friday with the literary conference inside Coahoma Community College’s Whiteside Lecture Hall and a keynote address by Kenneth Holditch.

Theatre director Eda Holmes discussed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and introduced a scene starring Severn Thompson as Maggie and Theatre Oxford’s Jared Davis as Brick, with actor/musician Jeff Glickman of Pensacola playing background guitar music.

Following lunch, the scholar panel continued its dialogue on Cat, and the program finale featuring veteran actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence in a one-person presentation as Tennessee Williams discussing his sister Rose.

At the Clark House reception, owner Charles Evans welcomed guests, the Dutch Oven presented a gourmet Southern buffet, Dr. Vivian Presley, president of Coahoma Community College, introduced an ensemble of the CCC choir; virtuoso guitarist Jeff Glickman entertained; and students from Hernando and their teacher Ashley Hawkins presented monologues.

Although crowds attended Saturday’s student drama competition at the Civic Auditorium organized by Kappi Allen, others enjoyed open houses at the Cutrer Mansion where Jen Waller, director, introduced Herbert Krill’s documentary and others visited the former St. George‘s Church rectory to view renovated second floor where Tom Williams lived as a child.

Jay Westfaul presented an organ recital in St. George’s Church with a talk by the Rev. Jason Shelby about the role of the Rev. Walter Dakin in the life of Tom Williams, and visitors were treated to refreshments at the Clarksdale Women’s Club across the street

Spectacular porch plays featured Oxford’s Johnny McPhail in The Last of My Solid Gold Watches; Wanda Lee’s Clarksdale High School drama students; Jared Davis and Alice Walker in scenes from A Streetcar Desire; Sherrie Williams as Amanda Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie, and Jeff Glickman reading Tennessee Williams poetry.

Ground Zero Blues Club of Clarksdale hosted the festival finale with supper, the presentation of student drama winners, and celebrity actors who talked about their own careers in theatre and movies.

Canadian actor Severn Thompson (in slip) portrays Maggie and Jared Davis of Oxford as Brick from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ in Whiteside Lecture Hall; with guitarist Jeff Glickman providing background music.

Clarksdale High School drama students of Wanda Lee draw a large crowd for their Tennessee Williams monologues.

Scenes from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ star Theatre Oxford actors Alice Walker as Blanche and Jared Davis as Stanley.