Tennessee Williams Williams, Tennessee (Vol. 2)

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Williams, Tennessee (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Williams, Tennessee 1914–

A major, prize-winning Southern American playwright, Williams is the author of The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Sweet Bird of Youth, and the recent Small Craft Warnings. He also writes poems, novels, stories, and screenplays. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Tennessee Williams is a convulsive self-parroter. The Seven Descents of Myrtle is, like other recent works of the author's, a revision of an expansion of a recasting of some earlier opus. It smells less of the midnight oil than of an author oiled by midday, crapulously laughing as he re-hashes some previous hash of his, carefully squeezing out a trickle of newish tricks into the thick paste of stale self-plagiarism, self-parody, and self-flagellation.

John Simon, in Hudson Review, Summer, 1968, pp. 322-24.

If a swamp alligator could talk, he would sound like Tennessee Williams. His tongue seems coated with rum and molasses as it darts in and out of his mouth, licking at his moustache like a pink lizard. His voice wavers unsteadily like old grey cigar smoke in a room with no ventilation, rising to a mad cackle like a wounded macaw, settling finally in a cross somewhere between Tallulah Bankhead and Everett Dirksen. His hands flutter like dying birds in an abandoned aviary. Tragic flamboyance masks tortured sensitivity. At the age of sixty the world's most famous playwright stands precariously on the ledge of vulnerability, fighting like a jaguar and talking like a poet….

What to make of this Halloween goblin? This gilt-edged invitation to decadence, this life lived with constantly recurring visions in a madhouse, laced with the beckoning insinuation of champagne and flaming foods, of Oriental rugs and dimly lit brothels, surrounded by exotic friends like Anaïs Nin and Anna Magnani, who has publicly announced on several occasions she would like to marry him? He has gathered his years slowly, savoring the lusty taste of living, taking swooning delight in extravaganzas of brocade, crêpe suzettes, and a mild scent of orrisroot. High ceilings and dust on antiques fill him with a sense of appropriateness. He has created a myth of himself. His temple holds much ivy. He is shy, pursued by visions of hell, and is blind in one eye. He has done everything and seen everything. He has won every award there is, including two Pulitzer Prizes. There is scarcely a minute of the day when he doesn't complain about either emotional exhaustion or being physically assaulted by any number of undiagnosed afflictions. One senses he is his own worst enemy, that it is miraculous that he has indeed been able to write at all. Yet, like the old dog that has survived many seasons of distemper, he keeps coming back, a Phoenix rising from the flames….

Years of indescribable torment and physical dissipation…. taught him a way of life. Even now, he still wanders restlessly in search of the sad music in people, ordering a banquet for the spirit, and although he has always got what he asked for, the melody has often been in the wrong key and the meal served at inconvenient hours. And out of the loneliness and self-destruction and pain have come some of the world's greatest plays. Why do they survive along with him? Why does Tennessee Williams, already written off by the cynics in the obituaries they keep taking out and rattling whenever a new play opens, make more comebacks than Judy Garland? Because in an age so filled with non-appreciation and polite sensibility, a time of fatalism, nihilism, a certain destruction of the ideal of beauty, a replacement by wastelands and other sterile sanctuaries, he suffers the urgent need to bring meaning to life, to resurrect gentility and kindness. It is not necessary to understand him to appreciate his genius. One needs only to feel, and he feels magnificently.

Rex Reed, "Tennessee Williams Turns Sixty," in Esquire, September, 1971, pp. 105-08, 216-23.

Though Williams is often called a poetic playwright, [most of his] plays...

(The entire section is 2,431 words.)