Dennis Monn says it's only fitting that he direct Vieux Carre, Tennessee Williams' play about bohemians and hustlers in a French Quarter boarding house.
"When I landed in New Orleans in 2000, my first house was a squat in the Quarter," he says. "I lived in these apartments with a mime, a fortune teller-slash-prostitute, a vampire and Addie Hall, who is the girl who later got murdered by her boyfriend."
A customer at a restaurant where he worked gave him a copy of Williams' collected works.
"The first thing I turned to was Vieux Carre, because it was my new home," Monn says. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I am living this play.'"
Vieux Carre is one of several productions of Williams' plays that overlap with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (March 21-25). Several of the works are set in New Orleans and feature some of his best known characters and types of characters.
Le Petit Theatre du Viuex Carre is presenting A Streetcar Named Desire throughout March. In the brutish role of Stanley Kowalski, director Maxwell Williams cast Curtis Billings, a veteran of many Tennessee Williams productions at Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut. Blanche DuBois is played by Beth Bartley, who starred as Catharine in Southern Rep's 2015 production of Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer. Zeb Hollins III and Troi Bechet play the Kowalskis' rambunctious neighbors. Maxwell Williams is unflinching in letting the work dwell less on the smoldering desires that drive Blanche, Stanley and Stella, and more on the prices they pay for them. (7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through March 31; www.lepetittheatre.com)
Southern Rep is presenting two of Williams' one-act plays at Loyola University's Marquette Theatre. The rarely produced And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens is the only play Williams wrote with multiple openly gay characters. It's set in the French Quarter, where Candy (Evan Spigelman), who runs an antique shop, dresses in women's clothes at home and picks up a visiting sailor during Mardi Gras. The sailor seeks her companionship, but he's not kind to her. Candy's neighbors, a gay couple, offer some solace. Director Ricky Graham uses Dixie's Bar of Music, which Williams frequented, as the bar in the play. He notes that Candy is based on someone Williams knew personally. (7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday March 21-April 1; www.southernrep.com)
Monn is producing Vieux Carre at AllWays Lounge, which he runs. Much of the drama takes place in a disco, and he's barely changed the lounge's front room, where he also presented Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Threepenny Opera. In Vieux Carre, a lonely, gay, aspiring writer moves into a boarding house on Toulouse Street and meets a cantankerous proprietor, a lecherous older painter, a sick young society woman, her drug-addicted lover and others. (8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday, March 22-25; www.theallwayslounge.net)
Also playing during the festival is Moises Kaufman's One Arm. It's based on and uses language from a Williams short story and its screen adaptation. In it, a former boxer who lost an arm in an accident turns to hustling while struggling to get by. The drama is set against the backdrop of the French Quarter. The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans (which will produce Vieux Carre in August) is staging it at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, and Kaufman will participate in a discussion following the March 24 performance. (8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday March 22-April 7; www.twtheatrenola.com)
The festival also features authors Richard Ford, Calvin Trillin, Rick Bragg, Donna Brazile, Nathaniel Rich and others participating in panel discussions and classes. There also are parties, concerts and walking tours, and the annual Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest concludes events in Jackson Square.