The Rose Tattoo, which was a box-office success on Broadway, followed two other major Broadway successes for Williams, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. The play’s popularity with the public garnered it a Tony Award, with critics, on the whole, seeing it as a less successful play than the two previous successes.
William Hawkins’s mixed review is typical of critical reaction following the play’s Broadway opening. Writing for the New York World-Telegram and The Sun, he states that in ‘‘its favor the play has atmosphere and warmth.’’ Yet, he writes, ‘‘the humor often seems glued to the surface, and passages of the play are endlessly chatty and repetitious.’’ Other critics thought the play’s bawdy humor worked awkwardly with its other, more serious intentions, or that the comedy was crude as opposed to bawdy. According to Margaret Marshall writing for the Nation, the play descends ‘‘into cheap farce which must be seen to be believed. The absurd and the vulgar contend for place.’’
Yet, in an essay from Tennessee Williams: A Tribute, entitled ‘‘Sentiment and humor in equal measure’’: Comic Forms in The Rose Tattoo,’’ Philip C. Kolin argues that a proper understanding of the play’s comedy is crucial for appreciation. He states that the play is ‘‘an experiment in comedy,’’ in which various comedic forms are juxtaposed and blended. These forms, says Kolin, ‘‘range from slapstick humor, including farce, music hall antics, and vaudeville to folk, satiric, and romantic comedy, and, occasionally, tragicomedy.’’ More recently in ‘‘The Family of Mitch,’’ in Magical Muse: Millennial Essays on Tennessee Williams, Kolin has written on the character of Alvaro. He argues that Alvaro is one of Williams’s plays’ ‘‘unsuitable suitors,’’ a ‘‘loser who becomes a winner,’’ as Williams is interested in resisting the conventional romance formula in which suitors are perfectly manly and gentlemanly.
Most commentary on the play touches on its Dionysian dimension,...
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