Tom Wingfield, just outside the (dis-)comfort of the family apartment, delivers a monologue at the beginning of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." It's his rambling manifesto on life, in which he observes he is "the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion."
It was certainly Williams talking through Tom (the playwright's real first name), as "Menagerie" was staged in the sort of gauzy, uncomfortable truth that covered many of Williams' plays like a wispy fog.
The line came to mind as I was reading about this year's pretty much yearlong celebration of Eugene O'Neill and the playwrights he inspired to create the "American Theater." This new style of theater emerged from the often overblown melodrama of the 19th century and blended with the observation of life in a country reinventing itself on a near-daily basis.
In Danville, it is the tribute season to the "Father of American Drama." Tao House, O'Neill's Danville home in the hills behind the town, will present a full season of O'Neill-influenced plays, continuing with Octavio Solis' "El Paso Blue," which will receive a staged reading (directed by Solis) at 3 p.m. May 18 in the Old Barn on the Tao House grounds.
The play, written in 1994, has been called "a modern Western with music." And, although it is set in Texas, this blend of politics, immigration, cultural loss and revenge could just as well be set in rural portions of California's Central Valley. It's the story of a man who is released from prison on parole and discovers his wife has run off with his father.
I saw the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and was blown away by the intensity and depth of the play by the San Francisco-based author, considered by many to be one of America's most prominent Latino playwrights.
This is the first time in the Eugene O'Neill Foundation's 40-year history the group has presented a full season of theatrical programming, said Eric Fraisher Hayes, the foundation's program director.
"This promises to be a great year of staged readings and full productions from the foundation," said Hayes. "We will be holding events in downtown Danville as well as Tao House at the Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in Danville, where O'Neill lived from 1937 to 1944 and where he wrote his most notable plays."
For the first time in its 40-year history, The Eugene O'Neill Foundation's Tao House has announced a full season of theatrical programming.
In the first half of 2014, the Foundation's Playwrights' Theatre series will focus on work inspired by O'Neill, the only American playwright to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In September, the 15th Eugene O'Neill Festival will focus on "The Art of Escape," a theme prevalent in many of O'Neill's plays. It will include several fully staged masterworks of American drama, focusing on the festival theme. The presentations include Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," a popular Tennessee Williams drama of decay and superficiality.
The next play will be a powerful O'Neill classic written at Tao House -- "The Iceman Cometh," directed by Hayes; it will be also produced at Tao House, the show's first professional Bay Area production in 40 years. The 1939 play is about the drunks and dreamers at Harry Hope's saloon in Greenwich Village, where a dozen lowlife and shady characters have their never-to-be-accomplished pipe dreams challenged by traveling salesman Theodore Hickey.
"Both of these plays challenge ideas of truth and illusion and their relative value. When is it time to face a truth? When is it time to escape from it? And whose truth are we talking about in the first place?" Hayes said. "These plays are masterful at demanding that an audience ask themselves these questions. It is what gives these plays enduring power."
public reading: "Tassajara '64," by Eric Fraisher Hayes, is about the May 4, 1964, plane crash on the pastoral hills above Danville. Hayes, who grew up in Danville and has lived there much of his life, until recent years had never heard the story of the ill-fated flight of the gamblers' special plane that crashed on the hillside off Camino Tassajara, killing all on board.
It was both a tragedy and a crime, since a passenger -- who was easily able to bring his pistol on board the plane -- shot the pilot and co-pilot. Hayes learned of the crash when his mother casually mentioned she had gone to school with one of the passengers. In an instant, the sleepy community of Danville became the center of unprecedented national attention.
A version of the play was go before the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday, when "Tassajara '64," Hayes' 50th anniversary tribute to the tragedy, gets a staged reading at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, 205 Railroad Ave. in Danville.
Don't miss it: "THE MUSIC MAN" is Meredith Willson's affectionate look at Small Town U.S.A. at the beginning of the 20th century, when a silver-tongued traveling salesman, Harold Hill pays a visit to River City, Iowa to sell parents on the notion of putting together a boys' band.
What he's really selling are instruments, uniforms and music, but what he's pushing is the image of Jimmy, Jr. marching down Main Street tooting the brass and dressed, for all the world, like a drum major. It's a con he's run successfully throughout the Midwest, and probably could have pulled it off if he hadn't fallen for Marian, the librarian, a lovely young woman bent on seeing Hill behind bars until she fell for him.
The production, now open in Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center, should be a treat in its Pacific Coast Repertory Theater Company production. The group has performed enough in the unusual theater space to make every corner play beautifully. And the small-town feel of downtown Pleasanton will just add the proper atmosphere of the show that cannot be seen too many times.
The show will run at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 18, in the theater at 4444 Railroad Avenue in Pleasanton, CA. Tickets cost $17-$38 each, and are available at the Firehouse Arts Center Box Office, 925-931-4848, or at www.pcrtproductions.org or www.firehousearts.org
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.