Gay Key West loves to celebrate life with events held throughout the year — including the Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration each spring. The commemoration includes showings of films based on some of Williams’ award-winning plays, a plein air painting contest, poetry and short story competitions, theatrical presentations and a birthday reception. This year’s newest addition is a guided tasting of Williams-connected cocktails.
You may be wondering why Key Westers are such big fans of Tennessee Williams. Well, here’s a bit of history. In 2011, the 100th-anniversary mark of the birth of the legendary playwright, Key West residents Dennis Beaver and Bert Whitt met with the Key West Art & Historical Society to discuss ways to celebrate the life of Williams — who lived in Key West from 1949 to 1983.
Dennis and Bert had collected a great deal of the iconic gay playwright’s memorabilia over the years, so they decided to open a Tennessee Williams exhibit — which merged with the Key West Art & Historical Society in 2017 to become the Tennessee Williams Museum. It’s located at 513 Truman Ave. and features what Dennis proudly calls “the largest permanent collection of Williams memorabilia currently available to the public.”
The guys also created an annual T.W. birthday celebration, which has grown in popularity year after year.
A number of Tennessee’s world-famous plays were written in Key West and inspired by his 30-some years of life on the island (many of which he spent with his romantic partner, Frank Merlo). And did you know that Tennessee was not just a famous playwright, but also an avid artist? A permanent exhibit of his paintings can be seen locally at the Custom House Museum.
The event’s kickoff party will be held at the lovely home of Dennis Beaver and Bert Whitt at 1207 Whitehead St. It’s planned for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, with an open bar, hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment. The party is limited to 100 people, so I suggest purchasing tickets ASAP.
Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., is honoring Williams by showing one of his films every Monday during March. Films begin at 6:30 p.m. and include “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Rose Tattoo” (which was filmed in Key West), “Boom!” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.” The cinema was expanded this year and offers four screens, state-of-the-art digital projection, a wonderful art gallery and a concession stand with my favorite wines. Who doesn’t love a great movie and great libations?
Also during the celebration, explore the Tennessee Williams Museum to learn about the playwright’s Key West years. You’ll find an extensive collection of photographs (mostly taken in Key West), first-edition books, plays and even a typewriter used by Williams when he lived on the island. There’s also a print of an original painting he completed at age 17, one of his college yearbooks featuring a poem he wrote and a gorgeous artist-crafted model of his Key West home. Special tours led by Dennis Beaver are scheduled March 8 and 22.
At 7 p.m. Friday, March 15, author and cocktail historian Philip Greene will present “An Evening with Tennessee Williams” at The Key West Theater, 512 Eaton St. The soiree will feature some of Williams’ favorite cocktails and libations — plus favorites of literary icons including Truman Capote and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
March 27 brings the party marking the 108th anniversary of the late playwright’s March 26 birth. The birthday bash will be held at the Tennessee Williams Museum, with attractions including a display of the paintings created during the contest, readings by literary competition winners and a birthday cake for Williams.
Then, last but definitely not least, Stephen Kitsakos will direct “Underwater: Two One-Act Plays by Tennessee Williams” at The Studios of Key West at 533 Eaton St. The plays, a pair of Tennessee’s lesser-known works, will be presented March 31 and April 1 at 7:30 pm.
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