UI Station Williams stories

Guitarist Scott Knier plays original music as the rest of the cast of in ‘Amor Perdido/Lost Love’ — from left, Chloe Cosgrove, Jordan Coughtry, Gary Ambler, Joi Hoffsommer and Nisi Sturgis — who all read from little-known Tennessee Williams short stories, sing along in a play that opens Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Station Theatre in Urbana.

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URBANA — Illinois theater Professor Tom Mitchell focuses his studies on one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th century, Tennessee Williams. But as he combed through Williams’ archives at the University of Texas and Harvard, he uncovered plenty of work that had never seen the light of day.

In his research, Mitchell found that Williams’ powerful writing wasn’t limited to works made for the stage.

“He wrote just constantly,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes he would write stories and try to get them published and couldn’t get them published and just filed them away.”

Some of those stories will be on display at the Station Theatre tonight through Sunday, when six actors read selections from Williams’ stories in “Amor Perdido/Lost Love.”

The stories are connected by the theme laid out in the title, love that slipped away. The play also includes original music by Scott Knier, who plays the guitar and sings between readings.

The production, which is a collaboration with University of Illinois, will then head to the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in New Orleans in three weeks.

Audience members won’t be familiar with these particular stories. But those familiar with his work will recognize his style, actor Joi Hoffsommer said.

“Since I was a very young actor, I’ve been a fan of Williams and the poetry of his writing,” Hoffsommer said. “And in these stories, that really shines. The language is so rich and beautiful, and I really love that.”

In the production, actors read stories from scripts, and some scenes are acted out as they’re read.

Hoffsommer and Mitchell have been married for 40 years, half of which Mitchell has spent studying Williams’ work. Each year, the couple attend festivals that focus on Williams’ work, and Hoffsommer is Mitchell’s go-to reader.

Hoffsommer, who used to teach theater and film classes at Parkland College, performs regularly at the Station Theatre. Reading prose, though, is a different type of acting.

“You’re referring to the experience of someone you’re watching rather than just embodying something,” Hoffsommer said. “It’s pure storytelling.”

Normally, this type of performance might be reserved for a festival like the one Mitchell and the crew will be heading to in a few weeks. The Station Theatre, though, was the perfect fit for its opening performances.

“This is a chance to share this locally,” he said. “There are not a lot of places where you can just share these, but the Station is a place where the audience is used to unusual projects.”