Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Greg Barrios (who has written two plays about Tennessee Williams and Williams' two great loves, Frank Merlo and Pancho Rodriguez) interviews John Lahr, who just published last year an award-winning biography of Tennessee Williams called Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.
It's absolutely fascinating, "literary detection" as The Guardian says. What I like about it is that without condemnation it unearths the psychological mechanism by which Williams created his characters out of himself and projected on to others (his characters). It's not exactly pretty, but it's powerful. Lahr admires Williams' work passionately, but can dissect his method dispassionately.
What [Williams] was, as he said, was a hysteric. And performance is part of what a hysteric does. They perform their wound and project it onto other people. And there is that brilliant line in Sweet Bird of Youth where the Princess says, “I have this thing like a sculpture almost heroic that I can unveil.” And that’s it. That is what the negotiation is, both as an artist and as an ordinary citizen if you’re a hysteric. You are projecting your inner life into others and watching and enjoying their response, and controlling their response with your act. So the performative thing was always a part of Williams’s life.
Remember that essay he wrote about the sidewalk histrionics of a little girl? Dressing up, saying, “look at me, look at me.” I think he calls it “Sidewalk Theatrics” [actually, “Person-to-Person”]. It’s in his collected essays. And that in a cartoonish way is what a performer does. He is drawing attention to himself. He has a need for that attention. That’s part of the DNA of an entertainer.
Speaking of wounds, here's a pic of Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, a character based on Pancho Rodriguez, a wounded man in his own right. Would love to see those Barrios' plays —
One thought on “Understanding Tennessee: how he projected his “wound””
I saw a performance of Barrios’ play in P-Town. It was devastatingly accurate. BTW the play script is available through Amazon and contains blurbs from Lahr and fellow critic Phillip Lopate.
Maybe with all the interest in Williams, the play might go off-Broadway.