Ethereal, Elusive Tennessee Williams Play, “Stairs To The Roof,” Opens After 67 Year Absence

Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in "Stairs To The Roof" by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Em Piro and Paul Cereghino as the young lovers in “Stairs To The Roof” by Tennessee Williams produced by Sudden View Productions.

Wow! St. Louis theatre just keeps getting better all the time. Those in the know realize what a wonderful theatrical community exists here and now, a new company and a new production cements that solid reputation with a Tennessee Williams play that hasn’t been professionally produced in 67 years. Despite being an early attempt at a Broadway bound play, this is a very un-Tennessee Williams play despite the echoing voice that was to eventually bring us a multitude of powerful theatrical wonders. “Stairs To The Roof” is a dream-like romance that points to a happy ending but with that underlying tension of dissatisfaction and pessimism that pervades so much of his later work.

Sudden View Productions, led by Artistic Director Carrie Houk, takes a big bite out of the theatrical apple for her first attempt. A large cast and stunning technical qualities belie what you might think would be a beginning for a new group. But SVP pulls it off with style and panache. Benjamin D. Murphy is a dreamer. Despite being trapped in a thankless job at a shirt making concern (close to Mr. Williams’ early career at the International Shoe Factory here in St. Louis), he dreams of freeing himself and his start is discovering an almost hidden stairway that leads to the roof of the factory. Paul Cereghino is sheer perfection in the role of Murphy. He literally embodies the spirit that is expressed in one of the key lines in the play, “to be free is to have achieved your life.” Throughout the performance you can detect the itch for freedom in his manner and voice inflection.

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof."

The beginnings of the love that erupts as realized by a ballet sequence in the Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof.”

He eventually hooks up with “The Girl,” played with exquisite subtlety and radiance by Em Piro. The two go on an all night spree that encompass local haunts like Washington University and the Zoo (where he frees a group of foxes that are howling for their escape) and even encounter love in the beautifully realized dream sequence featuring a lovely pas de deux featuring St. Louis Ballet dancers Clayton Cunningham and Elizabeth Lloyd. Local acting icon, Peter Mayer, is properly stern and clueless as Ben’s boss while Reginald Pierre is outstanding as the “mysterious” Mr. E who pops up throughout and then plays the major role as deus ex machina in the final sequence.

An outstanding supporting cast bring this ethereal production to glorious life. From the mechanical, rhythmic secretaries in the opening scene to the stunning circus-like dream sequence during the young lovers’ night out, this is a massive and quite successful undertaking that makes this Tennessee Williams script more than memorable. The surreal circus sequence is just one of many highlights in this unusual Tennessee Williams play. Thanks to the brilliant direction of Fred Abrahamse, the production pops with an other-worldly feel. With the talents of Marcel Meyer as set designer, costumer and choreographer, it is awash in symbolism and a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. Patrick Huber’s lighting design just adds to that feel with broad strokes of color amid the touches of realism. With a theme of “blue” in Ben’s outfit, scenery and lighting and the often bluesy score of Henry Palkes, we get a real feel for the overriding themes of “Stairs To The Roof.” The music for the dream ballet in particular is a work of art in itself and makes that scene a transcendent moment in the whole production.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, "Stairs To The Roof" at Sudden View Productions.

One of the many stunning stage pictures that encompass the beautiful Tennessee Williams play, “Stairs To The Roof” at Sudden View Productions.

With promises of more in the near future and an eventual Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Carrie Houk and Sudden View Productions may become a major player in an already rich theatre scene in St. Louis. Despite the occasional production over the years, this is the first full professional production of this unusual Williams play in sixty-seven years. What a fitting tribute to the man who made St. Louis home despite his often derogatory remarks about our fair city. It molded him and made him the great playwright that he became. Now we get a chance to see how it started before “The Glass Menagerie,” before “A Streetcar Named Desire,” before “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” and before the marvelous output over a lifetime of great and near-great plays and short stories.

It’s also the grand opening of the newly renovated Boo Cat Club- a marvelous venue in the midst of mid-town and one of many elegant residences that housed amenities such as a grand ballroom and a fully realized stage. In fact, many of Tennessee Williams’ plays were first produced in this building when it was the home of the St. Louis Artist Guild. Be sure to plan on seeing this historic play while it plays here through November 22nd.

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