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Movie announced for unfilmed Tennessee Williams play – 37 years after his death

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Playwright Tennessee Williams (Image courtesy Library of Congress. Photo credit: Walter Albertin)

Nearly four decades after Tennessee Williams made his final exit from the world stage, one of the iconic dramatist’s most controversial plays is finally set for a film adaptation.

The Tony and Pulitzer-winning playwright became one of America’s most lauded theatrical writers during the second half of the last century; his plays, which largely focus on outsider characters struggling against the pressures of a social norm in which they do not fit, often explored homosexual themes at a time when the subject was widely considered taboo, earning the openly queer playwright a special place in LGBTQ cultural history; many of his works, such as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” are undisputed classics that have been filmed many times and continue to be revived and performed on stages worldwide, and his influence is so deeply felt that references to his plays and characters still turn up in American pop culture, from classic episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld,” to movies as far-flung as “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Disaster Artist,” to songs by popular musicians like Lana Del Ray and Lil Wayne.

Williams died in 1983 at the age of 71, after grappling with depression and substance use issues for most of his life, but he left behind an impressive body of work that continues to fascinate scholars and artists today. One such artist is actor and filmmaker Ethan Hawke – who, according to Variety, has announced plans to adapt and direct a screen version of Williams’ wildly experimental 1953 play, “Camino Real.”

Ethan Hawke in the 2018 film “First Reformed” (Image courtesy A24)

Hawke – who, in a “who knew?” coincidence, happens to be Williams’ great-nephew – calls the planned feature film a “passion project.”

In an interview at Sundance, Hawke told Variety, “I’ve been obsessed with the piece for years. I kept turning it over and over again in my mind. It’s part rock opera, part ‘Waiting for Godot.’ What I think Tennessee was trying to do, cinema has caught up to and can do better.”

“It’s not dissimilar to what Baz Luhrmann was aspiring to on ‘Moulin Rouge,’ it’s just more spiritual,” he adds.

The original play was a departure for Williams, who in 1953 was fresh from the mega-success of “Streetcar,” which had not only won the Pulitzer Prize but been adapted into a multi-Oscar-winning movie which made an international star out of Marlon Brando. It’s a surreal mélange of history, literature, and myth, following a young American named Kilroy through encounters with characters like Don Quixote, Camille, Casanova, and Esmeralda from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Audiences and critics didn’t respond well to Williams in experimental mode, and its Broadway debut closed after only 60 performances – though it was “rediscovered” in subsequent decades and has spawned countless productions from theatre artists drawn to try their hand at an interpretation.

Hawke first became interested in the play when he starred as Kilroy in a well-received 1999 stage production at the Williamsburg Theatre Festival. He made a previous attempt to bring the play to the screen several years ago, hoping to film in Cuba while Fidel Castro was still in power. That project fell through, but now he has teamed with producer Uri Singer, with whom he collaborated on this year’s Sundance entry, “Tesla,” after Singer convinced him that filming in Rio de Janeiro – where Brazilian incentives for filmmakers would help to defray costs – could provide the kind of cosmopolitan backdrop needed for the piece.

“The play is set at the crossroads of all the world and we want to represent that with the production and the cast,” says Hawke. “Rio seems like the place to do that. There’s an intersection of extreme poverty and extreme wealth.”

Hawke, who has balanced a respected career in theatre with his work in film since debuting as a child actor in the 1985 sci-fi film “Explorers,” says he will not appear in the film. No casting has been announced, though he says he hopes to include Juliette Binoche, with whom he recently worked in the French-Japanese drama “The Truth.”

Filming will take place in Rio this year, and Hawkes says they hope to wrap production by Christmas.

As to whether there’s still an audience out there for a new Tennessee Williams film (particularly one so far removed from the queer icon’s usual mode of expression), that remains to be seen. For Hawkes, however, the motivation for making it has more to do with artistic fulfillment than financial reward.

“When something really daring works, there’s a high,” says the four-time Oscar nominee. “It’s like Jimi Hendrix when he played. When James Baldwin speaks, for example, he’s living on the edge. And Tennessee was living way out there.”

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Photos: Reston Pride

In-person festival returns

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Attendees of Reston Pride dance to a recording of 'YMCA' by the Village People. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The 2021 Reston Pride Festival was held at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Va. on Saturday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Calendar: June 18-24

Events in the week to come

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Friday, June 18

Join the National Archives and Bishopsgate Institute Special Collections and Archives as they present their LGBTQ+ archive collections virtually at 8 a.m. In this event, Vicky Iglikowski-Broad from The National Archives and Stefan Dickers from Bishopsgate will explore the different strengths of their collections, to reflect on how they can be used together to build a fuller picture of LGBTQ+ lives. Event registration is available on Eventbrite.

“DISDance, Pride Edition- Still We Dance” will be at 6:30 p.m. Join the D.C. Public Library and show your Pride by dancing with the Library’s Freegal music collections. Post a video or photo of you and your crew dancing or lip-syncing to Instagram and tag D.C. Public Library on Instagram (@dcpubliclibrary) using the tags #DCPLDanceParty and #StillWeDance. The library’s favorite videos will be shared, and crown the video with the most likes the virtual Queen of Pride. All four Pride playlists are available on Freegal with the names Still We Lead, Still We Live, Still We Laugh, and Still We Love.

Saturday, June 19

Join the DC Center for its virtual job club, a weekly job support program to help job entrants and seekers, including the long-term unemployed, improve self-confidence, motivation, resilience and productivity for effective job searches and networking. The event begins on Zoom at 6 p.m. For more information, email [email protected].

Sunday, June 20

Join the DC Center and the Beta Kappa Chapter of the Beta Phi Omega Sorority for a peer-led support group devoted to the joys and challenges of being a Black lesbian. You do not need to be a member of the Beta Kappa Chapter or the Beta Phi Omega Sorority in order to join, but they do ask that you either identify as a lesbian or are questioning that aspect of your identity. This event will be hosted on Zoom at 1 p.m. More details are available here.

Monday, June 21

The Center Aging Coffee Drop-In will still take place virtually at 10 a.m. via Zoom. LGBT Older Adults (and friends) are invited to have friendly conversations about current issues they might be dealing with. For more information, visit Center Aging’s webpage.

Join GenderQueer DC for a monthly support group on Zoom for people who identify outside of the gender binary. Whether you’re bigender, agender, genderfluid, or just know that you’re not 100% cis – this is your group. The event will be at 7 p.m. For more information, visit genderqueerdc.com.

Tuesday, June 22

The European Union Delegation to the United States will host “Joining Forces for LGBTI Rights Around the World” virtually at 9:30 p.m. This event is a discussion on how the international community can help advance LGBTI rights around the world and will feature panelists: Mark Bromley, chair of The Council for Global Equality, Olena Shevchenko, director of Insight, and Urooj Arshad, senior program manager of Dignity for All: LGBTIQ+ Assistance Program, Freedom House. Registration for this free event is available on Eventbrite.

“Rainbow Challah Tutorial and Discussion” will be at 5 p.m. on Zoom. All are welcome to attend this event. Challah is a type of bread traditionally baked to celebrate the Jewish sabbath. Attendees will be provided with the recipe and materials list in advance if they would like to make it at home. There will also be a discussion about food, identity, and community. For more information, email [email protected] or call 202-543-1778 x204.

Wednesday, June 23

Capital Pride Alliance and Hook Hall will host “Hooked on Capital Pride” at 2 p.m. There will be drink specials, music, and celebration of all things LGBTQ+. A portion of the proceeds from this event will support the Capital Pride Alliance and partner Pride organizations responsible for producing Youth Pride, Silver Pride DC, DC Black Pride, DC Latinx Pride, Capital AAPI Pride, and Trans Pride, through the GivePride365 Fund. Every reservation will include a bottle of Rose Bubbly, and cabana reservations will come with a bonus celebration kit! For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Join the LGBTQIA Alliance Washington National Cathedral for a free webinar featuring Billy Curtis, director, Gender Equity Resource Center UC Berkeley on Zoom at 8 p.m. Curtis is a community activist and advocate who was hired as UC Berkeley’s first full-time director for LGBT Resources in 1999. Curtis is currently the director of the university’s Gender Equity Resource Center. To register for this event, visit: capitalpride.org.

Thursday, June 24

Join the DC Public Library for a poetry reading with Micah Powell from his book “Things No One Else Wants to Say.” Micah will read from his book and join a conversation with DC’s own Regie Cabico, poet and director of Capturing Fire Press. The event will be hosted on Facebook and YouTube at 5:30 p.m. To register, visit the library’s website.

Hope in a Box will host “Books That Make Us: A Pride Month Celebration of LGBTQ+ Stories” online at 8 p.m. The event will feature a number of notable figures including Jahana Hayes, member of Congress (D-Conn.) and 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Zach Stafford, columnist for MSNBC and former editor of the Advocate. Tickets are available at: hopeinabox.splashthat.com.

The DC Anti-Violence Program will have an open meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. At this meeting, there will be opportunities to learn more and get involved in lessening violence both within and directed toward the LGBT communities. To access the Zoom link, email [email protected].

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Blade live chat with ‘Real Housewives’ author Moylan

Interview to ‘spill the tea’ on all aspects of hit Bravo franchise

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Join the Washington Blade for a live interview with Brian Moylan, a former Blade staffer and author of the new book “The Housewives: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewives.” The book explores the origins and ongoing popularity of the franchise. Moylan will be interviewed by his former boss, Blade editor Kevin Naff. The two promise to “spill the tea” Housewives-style about all aspects of the hit Bravo franchise, including whether or not the shows are scripted and just how controlling Bravo is when it comes to marketing the Housewives.

The interview will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 24 and will stream on all Blade social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The interview will be uploaded to Instagram after it concludes.

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