Saturday, May 12, 2007

Stephen Tyrone Williams and "The Big Rock Candy Mountain"

One of Sydney's former students at the University of Alabama, the actor Stephen Tyrone Williams, sends along this publicity shot and news of his New York-area productions this summer. Now through June 9, he's in The Jocker by Clint Jefferies, part of the Gay Plays Series in the off-off-Broadway Wings Theatre in Greenwich Village. "It's about a community of male hobos 1931 and their struggle to survive life on the rails during the Great Depression," Stephen writes.

Then in July, he's playing Claudio in the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey production of Measure for Measure. He's also in "Float," a short film playing June 1-2 as part of NewFest, New York's LBGT film festival. (Search for it from the "Events by Title" page.) "It's about two Bahamian men coming of age in a hostile environment," Stephen writes.

Theatergoers, whenever you see Stephen's name in a cast list, you should go. Sydney and I went to lots of student and community productions when we lived in Alabama, and Stephen was uniformly terrific. He did brilliant work as Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime, the Wolf in Into the Woods and Laertes in Hamlet. He has charisma to burn, and given half a chance will be a Big Name Actor one day.

I'm also pleased to learn, in the playwright's notes for The Jocker, that very early versions of the hobo song "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" had overt gay themes, and that the song may have begun "as a parody of the stories an older tramp might spin to a young farm lad to entice him onto the road -- and into his bedroll." Sample lyric:
There are no bees in the cigarette trees, no big rock candy mountains.
No chocolate heights where they give away kites, or sody-water fountains.
He made me beg and sit on his peg, and he called me his jocker.
When I didn't get pies he blacked my eyes, and called me his apple-knocker.
I sure wish I had known this when I wrote my own hobo fantasy, likewise titled "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" (in Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists, edited by Peter Straub and illustrated by Gahan Wilson). I'll have to re-read it now.

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