The characters in the two plays that make up Tennessee Williams' Garden District suite do something that is increasingly rare in today's society: They keep their secrets.
The play Something Unspoken focuses on tensions in the forbidden relationship between an aging Southern lady and her secretary in the early-20th-century South. Suddenly, Last Summer examines the mysterious death of a wealthy Southern man, and his relationships with his mother and his fetching cousin.
"These days, people are parading their dirty little secrets on reality TV for everyone to see," says Scott Turner, a board member at Studio Players, which presents Garden District for the next three weekends. "It's nice to spend a couple hours with people who don't do that, who protect their secrets until they are slowly laid out before you."
That was in part what excited Turner about Berea College theater professor Deborah Martin's proposal last year to do Garden District in the 2010-11 season at Studio, which mostly chooses plays based on proposals from directors. The other part of the appeal was getting Williams' work back on Studio's stage. Its most recent presentation of a work by the iconic Southern playwright was a 1993 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also directed by Martin.
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"I love the language of Tennessee Williams," Martin says, "and I love the concept of these plays, of how well they work together."
Martin's excitement at presenting Williams is matched by her disappointment that she hasn't been able to direct the production to opening night.
As rehearsals got started, a back problem emerged that has left Martin unable to travel from Berea to Lexington for rehearsals.
"I have never walked away from a project in my career," Martin says. "Saying I could not continue was one of the most difficult things I have had to do."
It was pretty hard for Turner, who was serving as a producer on the show, to hear.
"I was terrified," Turner says. "Tennessee Williams is difficult under the best of circumstances."
He and co-producer Ross Carter took over the production, Carter directing Something Unspoken and Turner helming Suddenly, Last Summer.
Martin is still listed as the director of the show, and Carter and Turner say that she did the most important groundwork for the production, casting it and directing the early, formative rehearsals.
"The reality is, in theater you are always trying to present a show someone else has envisioned," Carter says.
They have to deal with the reality that they are different people from Martin, but Carter and Turner say they have kept in close contact with her, as have a number of the actors.
The performers were disappointed to lose Martin but say the production has been buoyed by Turner's and Carter's work and Williams' words.
As of Tuesday, Martin hoped to get back to a rehearsal before Thursday's opening night to see how the show is going, but she says she will not put on her director's hat and give notes to the actors.
"That would be too confusing to them, so close to opening night," she said.
Turner hopes there won't be too much for her to note: "I hope she sees the show she wanted to present."