Williams the Playwright
Reading Tennessee Williams this week. It almost hurts to read his plays; things I didn’t at all understand when I read them in high school now ache in my heart. They’re very hard plays to stage now. VERY complicated – many, many supporting characters, complicated sets, and scenes that go on much longer than a modern audience is accustomed to witness. Thus audiences usually only get Streetcar, Menagerie and Cat. Even Streetcar is tending towards verbosity. Blanche does go on and on. Harold Bloom has suggested that Shakespeare really is for reading now; maybe that’s true for Williams. At The Rhino we staged the obscure ones: Nightingales; Two-Character; Something Cloudy. Nightingales I cut and cut – it works with the cuts. Two-Character is tight. Something Cloudy I should have cut but it worked pretty well anyway. It’s the one that aches with memory and loss. Sweet Bird is glorious, classic Williams. But it is almost unproduceable – endless scenes, massive production, so many actors. Maybe it can still work with stars. Maybe. Still, it makes for a heart-breaking read. Anyone who’s been young or dreamed of fame can’t read it without seeing themselves, and that covers all of us. On a side note, the Leverich biography has that energy, reads like a Williams play – it burns with youth, ambition and gnawing regret. Do you have to be miserable to write like the great Tennessee? Do you have to cling to misery your whole life with pills and booze and loneliness to keep it coming? Is happiness the death of writing as good as Williams’?