Few playwrights write as much of their lives into every work as did Tennessee Williams, and few had lives that were so obviously theatrical. Growing up amid abusive alcoholism, genteel posturing, and the incipient madness of his beloved sister, Rose, Williams produced plays in which violence exploded into rape, castration, and even cannibalism, projecting dramatic personal traumas. In this frank, compelling study, the distinguished biographer and critic Ronald Hayman explores the intersection of biography and art in one of the most exuberantly autobiographical dramatists of the American theater. By the time he died, in 1983, Williams' reputation had seriously declined. More than twenty years of drug and alcohol addiction, coupled with devastating openness about his promiscuous homosexuality, had all but destroyed one of America's greatest playwrights, and Williams' new works were increasingly unsuccessful. In recent years, however, Broadway revivals and amateur productions have testified to his enduring greatness as one of the shapers of the American theater.
The major plays such as The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire, never disappeared from American theatrical consciousness. Their heroes--Tom Wingfield, Brick Pollitt, even Blanch Du Bois--are portraits of the artist as a very troubled man. Hayman explores the life and writings of Tennessee Williams and shows how they were linked. More than any previous biographer, he unmasks the compulsive, driven man behind the characters and lays bare the pain that engendered Williams' violent apocalypses. Tennessee Williams will change the way lovers of drama experience and understand some of Williams' finest achievements.
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(234mm x 156mm x 17mm)
Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
The biographer of Nietzsche, Kafka, Brecht, Sartre, Proust and de Sade takes on Tennessee Williams with intelligent, neatly weighed but uninspired results. Hayman mentions that he was commissioned by Yale to write this book, which otherwise might never have been written. Since very little original research has gone into it - it's mostly a too-smooth reshuffling of already familiar stuff - a reader of earlier lives of Williams might wonder why anyone should pursue this one. Still, Hayman's weighing of his subject's life brings a lively, not overly academic sensibility to bear on work a new generation might not be familiar with and offers as well a history of productions of Williams plays that often had his wavering imprimatur. The tack Hayman takes boils down to a portrait of a bedeviled gay artist whose growing dependence on drugs reinforced a neurotic insecurity that could be borne only by the immense daily discipline of writing - and writing no matter what disaster has befallen him. Williams's last 20 years come off as a decline into mental slop, with the playwright doggedly dramatizing his own "blue devils" without effect and producing failure upon failure, or parody upon self-parody. Meanwhile, he also falls into outrageous behavior and talks endlessly like a queen bitch who wants only to be stroked, despite whatever idiocies he's mouthing. A thought played on by Elia Kazan when first mounting A Streetcar Named Desire seems pivotal to understanding Williams, who as a younger man often picked up rough trade and was sometimes beaten up, a fear that becomes central to the Blanche-Stanley polarity, with Williams as Blanche and Stanley the rough trade perhaps out to murder him. In the end, Williams lusted for new acclaim by the critics as if for a lost Mardi Gras crown. Spankingly well-produced with superb illustrations. (Kirkus Reviews)
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