Tennessee Williams: How to live (and love) past despair

How to live (and love) with despair in our hearts is a question our disaster-prone century must face. And with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare and Chekhov, no dramatist has shown us how to face emotional disaster with the verve of Tennessee Williams. 

That's the subtext of this lovely essay on Williams, who turns 100 today. Curiously he is more revered in the UK than in the USA, perhaps because we Americans are still uncomfortable with Williams' hedonism. We prefer our writers, especially our gay writers, to be more tormented.

Williams should have been tormented, as emotionally abused as he was by both his parents, but somehow — perhaps because of his indefatigably loving grandparents, or perhaps because he early on experienced the love of the natural world, which he later expressed in his work and in lots and lots of sex in his life. By one means or another, not excluding a great deal of drinking, he escaped misery. 

Apparently in the UK, bold theaters have set out to revive his little-seen post-50's plays. On a lesser scale that's happening on these shores too, with the Wooster Group's brutalist version of Vieux Carre. (Clive Barnes once described this play as "the murmurings of genius" — the Wooster Group transformed it into the rantings of genius, a transformation that the soft-spoken Williams, methinks, would have abhorred.) 

And in Hollywood, the Fountain Theater had the nerve to put on Williams' very last play, A House Not Meant to Stand, which blatantly reimagines his parents as they might have been had their son, a promising young gay man, died young, and they been stuck with each other in poverty. 


Not a great play, but Sandy Martin, as his mother, losing her wits, was incandescent. 

This will be my year with Tennessee. Much more on this great writer in this space in 2011. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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