‘Not About Nightingales’ comes to School of Theatre and Dance

By Sarah Contreras

A famed playwright, a missing play, a beautiful actress on a mission and a story too good to believe–these elements are behind the School of Theatre and Dance’s newest production, “Not About Nightingales.”

The fifth production in the School of Theatre and Dance’s mainstage series, Tennessee Williams’s “Not About Nightingales” is a play with a curious background.

The play reflects on liberty, human rights and abuse of power. It is based during one of the (debatably) worst prison horrors in American history.

“This is a picture, an insight into prison life in the 1930’s during the depression,” said Patricia Ridge, director and theater faculty member, in the event’s news release. “It’s an unlikely love story which thrives, despite the underlying quarrel.”

Written in 1938, the play was rejected by the Group Theatre in New York City. Williams then shelved the project and went on to write masterpiece after masterpiece.

The play remained forgotten until 1989, when actress Vanessa Redgrave became determined to have the play see the light of day. After reading about “Not About Nightingales” in a forward written by Williams himself, Redgrave tracked down the manuscript and brought it to the attention of director Sir Trevor Nunn.

Nunn’s production debuted in 1998, and in 1999, “Not About Nightingales” was nominated for six Tony Awards.

The allure of the play does not simply lie in its larger-than-life mystery. The story Williams tells is gripping and is based on true events.

Written by Williams after he read newspaper accounts of inmates suffocating to death in a prison steam room, “Not About Nightingales” is the story of inmates who refuse to be mistreated any longer. They organize a hunger strike against their mistreatment and poor conditions and bravely face any and all of the punishments that come their way.

Though both stories behind the play are decades old, “Not About Nightingales” remains relevant. The inmates’ ability to fight against injustice, remain optimistic in the face of true despair and find humor in an otherwise bleak environment is inspiring to viewers today.

Given the tendency of Williams’ plays to resonate with audiences long after their debuts, “Not About Nightingales” is sure to teach lessons in love and resilience for years to come.