Thursday, February 03, 2011

Late Tennessee Williams

New York Magazine has a piece about the resurgence of later Tennessee Williams plays.

Boston audiences recently got a great production of one of these late pieces, The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame Lemonde. Tom Garvey's review of the performance by Beau Jest Moving Theatre is here, Bill Marx reviewed it here.

Here is New York Magazine's Scott Brown:

Late Williams isn’t some fragile vitrine unicorn. It’s rubbery, pliant, inchoate. Some of it is antic and gruesomely funny, some of it is ridiculous. And some of it is merely awful. All of it needs work, the way people need friends, lovers, collaborators—all things that the aging Williams didn’t have. With his collaborators gone, he was living in a mausoleum, scolded by the docents for his inability to write another Streetcar, perhaps the greatest American tragedy this side of Death of a Salesman. I say “tragedy,” but Robert Falls remembers a night near the end of Williams’s life when the playwright attended Falls’s small production of Streetcar in Chicago—and abruptly transformed the gothic drama into a comedy. Basically, he “broke” it. In the concluding moments, when the white-coats enter with a straitjacket for doomed Blanche, Williams cackled: “Oh, look at her! Look at Miss Blanche! You know she’s gonna talk her way out of that institution in one week!” Was it a joke? And if so, how entirely inappropriate, how sacrilegious, how near Simpson-ic in its absurdity: Was this Tennessee’s final transgressive fantasy—the negation of his own legend—or just the Tourettic outcry of a Tom Sawyer who couldn’t keep quiet watching his own funeral?

Williams could never keep quiet, even when the critics and fans begged him to. He seemed bent on shattering the myth of himself, which might have been the point of that despised shadow canon he left for the theater to finish. It’s certainly kept him talking, long, long after we were all sure we’d heard everything he had to say.

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