On the surface, David Keith Williamson’s family background and early life hold little to suggest that he would someday help to revolutionize the Australian theater and in so doing emerge as one of Australia’s major playwrights. Born in Melbourne in 1942, during the dark days of wartime Australia, this son of a bank official was reared and received his education for the most part in the small town of Bairnsdale, northeast of Melbourne. He was graduated from Monash University in 1964 with an engineering degree, then took postgraduate work in psychology at the University of Melbourne. From 1966 until 1972, he lectured on thermodynamics and social psychology at Swinburne College of Technology. He married Carol Cranby in 1965, but seven years later he ended both his marriage and his teaching career, determined to fulfill his promise as a writer. In 1974, he remarried, this time to a journalist, Kristin Green; they moved to Birchgrove, an inner Harborside suburb of Sydney. As the twenty-first century began, they made their residence in Queensland, the tropical state north of New South Wales.
Although concentrating on engineering and psychology, Williamson showed interest in the theater during his university years, writing for campus production several satiric reviews and a short play. His first full-length work, The Coming of Stork, was produced in 1970 for “a short weekend season” by the Café La Mama Theatre in Melbourne. After this modest start, Williamson established himself the following year as a fresh and original voice in Australian theater when two more of his plays had successful seasons in Melbourne and Sydney. Both written in 1971, these two plays, The Removalists and Don’s Party, moved in 1973 to London and New York, where they received attention rarely accorded Australian theatrical offerings, at least not since the 1950’s, when Ray Lawler’s steamy drama Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (pr. 1955, pb. 1957; commonly known as The Doll) was produced; Lawler’s account of Australian canecutters and barmaids in a Melbourne slum bore little resemblance, however, to the sophisticated and infinitely more universal plays Williamson sent abroad.
At home, Williamson continued to produce new work. That he was commissioned in 1973 to write a play to open the Drama Theatre of the new Sydney Opera House shows how far he had come in three years, from out-of-the-way coffeehouse and storefront theaters such as Café La Mama and The Pram Factory to the establishment’s center of culture.
Not to be outdone, the officials of the South Australian Theatre Company...
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