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‘Talking With Tennessee’ echoes of empty chatter

“All good art is indiscretion,” says Tennessee Williams somewhere near the end of “Talking With Tennessee.”

It’s an observation that the production might have done well to have heeded.

Devised and directed by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton, “Talking With Tennessee” aims to shed some light on the prolific playwright who gave us such enduring classics as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

The one-man drama performed by Martin Giles is being presented by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh as a companion piece to its opera of Williams’ play “Summer and Smoke,” which was adapted by composer Lee Hoiby.

Based on his letters and memoirs, “Talking With Tennessee” showcases Williams as an articulate, impishly disdainful and deservedly self-impressed artist.

Giles brings him to physical life with the fussy hand gestures, half-lidded glances and direct gazes that conjure up images of Williams during his glory days on Broadway.

Williams’ plays overflow with raw emotional honesty and sexual tension. But here Williams preens and postures, never giving us more than an artfully constructed, remarkably remote and emotionally constrained facade. Williams talks openly about his sister’s madness and is equally frank about his homosexual relationships. But while we’re bombarded with whos, whats and whens, Williams never reveals the fears, ambitions, disappointments and pleasures that would reveal the whys we want explained.

There’s little variance to the show’s rhythms and pacing, which at Saturday’s performance ran nearly two hours without intermission. That’s a long time to listen to anybody, even someone as eloquent as Williams.

The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh production of “Talking With Tennessee” continues through Oct, 5 with performances at 8 p.m. Oct. 2; 5 p.m. Oct. 4 and 6 p.m. Oct. 5. in the ballroom of the William Penn Snyder Mansion, 850 Ridge Ave., North Side. Tickets: $20 and $35 for “Talking with Tennessee” or $45 for “Talking with Tennessee” and “Summer and Smoke”. Details: (412) 394-3353 or www.proartstickets.org.


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