Tennessee Williams play provides unique directing opportunity for drama prof

Lionel Walsh, director of the School of Dramatic Art, is doing cross-border double-duty these days as he directs Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke, opening February 24 at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre.

Professor Walsh replaced Wayne State’s original director who was unable to fulfill his commitment due to health reasons, and relishes his first opportunity to direct a Williams play.

“I love Tennessee Williams – I love the poetic language, I love the clash of two worlds,” Walsh says of the playwright well known for his focus on life in the American south. “He was interested in the clash between the world of gentility, beauty and spiritual relationships. That is something you see in all Tennessee Williams plays.”

Walsh says that although he’s tired from a hectic schedule juggling his UWindsor duties with rehearsals at Hilberry Theatre three to four times a week for the past  two-and-a-half months, he has welcomed the opportunity to work with graduate students.

“Overall it’s been quite wonderful,” he says. “You don’t make any assumptions because they’re not your students. Because they are graduate students, they move forward more quickly and that can be exciting.”

Working with American students has also been a learning experience for Walsh.

“It’s just been really exciting. It’s only 10 kilometers from here but it’s a whole different culture,” he says. “These students have an understanding of the south – three of them because are from the south and they have an intuitive sense of what these people are about. They are going from personal knowledge rather than from dry research.”

Walsh says that because there are so few roles for women in Tennessee Williams plays, they are not ideal for our own University Players, but Summer and Smoke provided him with challenge and opportunity as a director.

“There are many wonderful parallels here to his other plays and the way he uses symbol and metaphor,” Walsh says. “You work through this in the rehearsal process and you find ways of actualizing that in how the actors play a scene.”

He says Summer and Smoke is a beautiful story in spite of the fact that it doesn’t end joyously.

 “There is a message in it that people who adjust to the world will go on, and there’s a bit of hope at the end even though the lead female character doesn’t get the end she wants.”

The show runs through April 21 and tickets are available by calling 313-577-2972 or online at hilberry.com. The Hilberry theatre is located at 4743 Cass Avenue, Detroit, on the campus of Wayne State University.


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