Tennessee Williams: No Refuge But Writing

February is all about Mardi Gras on Book And A View and there is no one I would rather sip a sazerac on a Bourbon St balcony with than the King of Southern Gothic, Tennessee Williams.

My life changed when my English teacher handed us a copy of his collected works in the sixth year and I met Laura, Blanche and Maggie the Cat. It was one of those rare moments when you feel like the vibrations of the world all magically align and play beautiful music. I was obsessed. Here was a playwright that, on the surface, I had nothing in common with and yet what he wrote resonated deeply with me. My love affair with Williams’ plays has endured far beyond any other. I know that I will love them until my dying day.

Tennessee Williams Writing

Williams was born in 1911 and produced some of the world’s most acclaimed drama in the 40s and 50s, pioneering a new, poetic style of theatre. A homosexual with alcohol and drug dependency issues, Williams poured his unhappiness, loneliness and response to a dysfunctional, violent early family life into his writing.

Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life

– Elia Kazan

His close relationship with his sister Rose, who was the inspiration behind The Glass Menagerie‘s Laura, further fuelled his tendency towards depression, especially when Rose’s life long battle with schizophrenia culminated in a frontal lobotomy. It is no coincidence that his characters are often tortured by their struggles with mental health issues and the sensitivity and poignancy with which he addresses these issues makes his writing as relevant today as it was groundbreaking when it was first published.

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His plays deal with loneliness, ageing, the desperation to connect, sex and addiction. All things that he struggled with himself and that no one else was writing about. The poetry of his writing gives these difficult themes a fragile, decaying beauty – much like the Southern settings his characters inhabit.

I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing.

– Tennessee Williams

Starting this month, New York’s Morgan Library has a new Williams exhibition – No Refuge But Writing, exploring Williams’ writing process and offering unprecedented access to his drafts, notebooks and letters. They are also showing several of the many film adaptations of his work including A Streetcar Named Desire, the Elia Kazan directed film that launched the stars of Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh into the stratosphere, and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. The exhibition runs through until 13th May.

And whilst I’m in New Orleans later this month, I will be sure to raise a glass to my favourite playwright, after all, as Williams said…

“America has three cities – New York, San Francisco and New Orleans… Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

 

 

Photo credits: LIFE magazine and The Morgan Library.

 

 

 

A Bawdy Night of Bard and Booze

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What happens when Britain’s greatest Bard meets tequila swigging Yanks off Broadway??

Genius happens. Silly, rude, sloshing Genius.

5 Stars

When booking to take out two sober pregnant ladies, one of whom has made a career out of studying and staging the Swan of Avon’s work – a more sensible man might have avoided a show with the title ‘Drunk Shakespeare’. Luckily I’m not married to a sensible man.

The premise of the show is that a nominated actor, each performance, is forced to down multiple shots and is then challenged to perform in a cut back version of a classic Shakespeare play: “Macbeth”. Our nominated actor was Hayley Palmer – and my my she was a valiant Lady Macbeth!

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The format is not in itself a new concept. There’s Drunk History for starters and the Reduced Shakespeare Company has been producing abridged versions of the plays for donkey’s years. (I’m also fairly certain that I’ve seen really bad student takes on it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

The thing that’s so wonderful about this production is that it dances between decent delivery of the key speeches throughout the play and bizarre, high energy current events sketches and improv. The cast’s ability to maintain an almost frantic approach for the full, uninterrupted 90 mins was impressive, and it’s genuinely funny.

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The show is clearly very tightly edited – despite the ‘off-the-cuff’ style of performance – but it allows just enough room for playing with the audience and the actors are skilled in bouncing off one another. They work hard to cultivate a feeling of being ‘in cahoots’ with the audience, from the gorgeous close quartered library set to the sharp, but never nasty, banter that flies across the stage.

This won’t be for you if you can’t bear to see the poetry butchered – or if you are squeamish about bad language and badly simulated sex – but if you like to laugh and like your classics tossed up with a decent helping of pop culture, this is one of the best nights out I’ve had in years – even stone cold sober.

http://www.drunkshakespeare.com

@drunkshakes