America's premier poet of twentieth-century theater dominated the stage for almost 20 years. Despite his fall into ignominy and artistic disfavor in the final years of his career, Tennessee Williams is still considered one of the world's finest dramatists. Together with... [more]
America's premier poet of twentieth-century theater dominated the stage for almost 20 years. Despite his fall into ignominy and artistic disfavor in the final years of his career, Tennessee Williams is still considered one of the world's finest dramatists. Together with Arthur Miller, Williams pioneered a poetic style of psychological realism that redefined post-World War II theater.
The twilight world of his characters, often society's outcasts, losers, and lonely hearts, brought a new grit and compassion to the stage. 'The Glass Menagerie' (1945) was his first Broadway production. Its unvarnished rendering of "degenerate" lifestyles and its evocative dialogue catapulted the playwright to the top ranks of theatrical talent. Williams won his first (and well-deserved) Pulitzer Prize with his next production, 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (1947), which was directed on both stage and screen by Elia Kazan. The opening night's performance was received by a half-hour standing ovation -- the stunned audience had "never seen a more realistic play ever." The original cast, who all went on to star in the movie (with the
exception of Jessica Tandy, who was replaced by Vivian Leigh as Blanche DuBois), was so
uniformly excellent that many theatrical companies to this day hesitate to mount a production of 'Streetcar,' fearing negative comparisons.
Williams nabbed his next Pulitzer for 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' (1955). He churned out an astonishing body of work from the late 1940s to the early 1960s: 'Summer and Smoke' (1947), 'The Rose Tattoo' (1950), 'Camino Real' (1953), 'Suddenly Last Summer' (1958), 'Sweet Bird of Youth' (1958), and 'The Night of the Iguana' (1961).
Williams' well-publicized bouts with alcoholism and prescription drug addiction shadowed his prolific output; later plays are often considered lesser, but they also represent his experiments with new forms and genres. His eccentric characters Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Amanda Wingfield, Maggie the Cat, Big Daddy, and Reverend Shannon, have transcended the American stage to become universal archetypes. Williams' artistic world dissected the polarities of dark and light, sensual and cerebral, and pious and profane; his dramas play as moral fables that amuse, move, and disturb his audiences. [show less]