LSA junior Maxim Vinogradov once wrote an entire play in the span of 27 hours—a task made even more nerve-racking because he knew that a theater troupe would give it a first table read the day after he finished, and then perform it a few short weeks later. The last-minute request had come from Bailey Boudreau, the creative director of the Slipstream Theatre in Ferndale, which is known for its modern takes on classic shows, like an all-female Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a gay bar. An aspiring fiction writer, Vinogradov won a Hopwood Award for a short story in 2016. He hoped to prove that he could write some respectable plays, too.
After a frenzied and sleepless night, Vinogradov had his script: a modern-day twist on Pygmalion that he called P.Y.G. It premiered during Slipstream’s 2016 season to favorable reviews. A creative collaboration was born.
Each season, in addition to updated takes on the classics, Slipstream premieres one original work. In 2017, Slipstream gave Vinogradov the honor again. In August, Slipstream debuted his play, A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams, which also won two Hopwood prizes in 2017: the Hopwood Drama Award and the Dennis McIntyre Prize for Distinction in Undergraduate Playwriting.
Vinogradov is still processing what winning the awards actually means: “I can’t wrap my head around playwrights reading my play and thinking it’s an actual play,” he says. “It’s really just such an over-the-top honor that I'm still stunned.”
Vinogradov also took what the Hopwood judges had to say heart. When Slipstream offered to stage the play, he and Boudreau brought the play to the cast and read it through again, looking for places to tweak and improve the script based on the judges’ critiques.
Onstage, Boudreau played the eponymous Williams, who stumbles through the play, his sister and lover at his side, sifting through a life’s worth of memories.
A star-studded scene from Vinogradov's play. Tennessee Williams influenced and collaborated with many midcentury artists, including Andy Warhol, whose art appeared on Williams's spoken-word album from 1960, and is now in the collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art.
“Tenn was pretty self-destructive—alcoholism, drug abuse—so his memory is pretty shattered,” says Vinogradov. “A Night of Stars is a memory play, like The Glass Menagerie. The problem is he can’t remember anything.”
Vinogradov’s play places Williams in a purgatory-like state as he recounts his own glamorous, tumultuous life. The playwright’s celebrity chums, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Andy Warhol, all make appearances. The play imagines how these glitzy personalities were influenced by—and in turn influenced—Williams in the course of his life and career.
“It’s like It’s A Wonderful Life,” Vinogradov says of the play, “but instead, at the end, you’re dead inside.”
For Vinogradov, the process of writing was a rewarding challenge, one that required digging deep into Williams’s background and mining for details and anecdotes that could shed light on the celebrated playwright’s thoughts and motivations.
Watching his work come to life through the actors has been fascinating, too, says Vinogradov. He gives the actors liberty to play with his script, to rework and fine-tune dialogue as they fully embody their roles. “The girl who plays Greta Garbo isn’t even eighteen yet and goes and blows that part out of the water with how she’s interpreting the dialogue,” he says.
A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams has ended its run at the Slipstream, but Vinogradov is still staying busy. He’s finishing up a modernized version of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, and he also thinks he’d like to write a musical soon—something fun, like a Halloween show. But for the moment, he’s got an even simpler goal: “I’m working on taking a break,” he says. Well, maybe a break from the stage, because Vinogradov is well into the fall semester of his junior year.