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Tennessee Williams' 'Eccentricities of a Nightingale'

When Alma Winemiller, a sensitive and lonely young woman, becomes increasingly restive and disturbed by the fear she will remain a spinster, she makes an almost desperate attempt to win the man of her choice — the young doctor John Buchanan.

She finds herself hemmed in by her stern father, her deranged mother and the young man's social-climbing mother who frowns on his attachment to Alma.

Set shortly before the First World War in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, "Eccentricities of a Nightingale" centers on the relationship between Alma and John: her touching attempts to sway his emotions, and his uncertainty as to where his heart should lead him. In the end there is only one beautiful moment between them — for neither can break the ties of family and position which draw them apart and defeat Alma's hopes for a fuller life.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) is at the forefront of playwrights of 20th-century American drama. He explored passion with honesty and forged dramas with psychological insight. Autobiographical, his play "The Glass Menagerie" brought what Williams would call "the catastrophe of success." "A Streetcar Named Desire," his most influential work, followed. Then came "Vieux Carre," "Sweet Bird of Youth," "The Rose Tattoo," "Orpheus Descending" and the classic "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Collaborative Theatre Project's production of Williams' "Eccentricities" previews Thursday, June 15, opens Friday, June 16, and runs through July 2 at the theater company's performing arts center, 555 Medford Center, directly across the sidewalk from Tinseltown and Cold Stone Creamery. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10 for the June 15 preview, $20 for all other shows, $15 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at ctporegon.org or by calling 541-779-1055.

In 1948, just before Williams' "Summer and Smoke" — the "blueprint" for "Eccentricities" — opened on Broadway, he revised "Summer and Smoke" because he felt it was melodramatic and weak, according to CEO director Susan Aversa Orrego.

Williams tried to persuade producers to substitute "Eccentricities" for "Summer and Smoke," but failed. He wrote in his author's note that he thought "'Eccentricities of a Nightingale' is a substantially different play from 'Summer and Smoke,' " and that he preferred it. "It is less conventional and melodramatic," he wrote, and he hoped that "its publication may lead to its production and confirm his feeling that it is a better work than the play from which it derived."

Williams didn't stop rewriting and refining "Eccentricities" until he completed a 1951 version. Considered by critics to be one of his finest plays, the script is an “indictment of how our unflattering instinct to marginalize and discard others different from ourselves can destroy a life or lives,” wrote Travis Michael Holder in LA Theatre Review.

Caitlyn Olson plays Alma Winemiller and Nicholas Walker plays John Buchanan in CTP's production of "Eccentricities." Russell Lloyd directs.

"'Eccentricities of a Nightingale' intrigues me on two levels," Lloyd says in a press release. "The first, simply on the pure emotional struggle that each of us battles within ourselves caused by our own repressive tendencies. The second level is the many demanding, oppressive forces imposed by family, friends and society in general.

"The result varies with an individual’s strength, wit, faith and hope. However, since  Williams has noted that this play, and more specifically the character of Alma, closely resembles himself, 'Eccentricities' ignites a curious spark within our human condition. In both the opening scene and the final moments between Alma and John, Williams includes references to fireworks and fire.”

Mrs. Buchanan is performed by Cynthia Tank; Diane Therese Nichols and William Coyne are Alma’s hopelessly ineffective parents; Pam Ward, Lauren Taylor and Jeff Mercer round out the cast as the critical citizens of Glorious Hill.

CTP’s performing arts space features a gallery entrance and displays work by regional artists. Representational and abstract paintings in oil and acrylic by John Lambie will be displayed throughout the run of "Eccentricities of a Nightingale."

Nick Walker plays John Buchanan and Caitlyn Olson is Alma Winemiller in Collaborative Theatre Project's production of 'Eccentricities of a Nightingale.' [Photo by Susan Aversa Orrego]