Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else Is An Audience

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Overview

Few playwrights write as much of their lives into every work as did Tennessee Williams, and few had lives that were so obviously theatrical. Growing up amid abusive alcoholism, genteel posturing, and the incipient madness of his beloved sister, Rose, Williams produced plays in which violence exploded into rape, castration, and even cannibalism, projecting dramatic personal traumas. In this frank, compelling study, the distinguished biographer and critic Ronald Hayman explores the intersection of biography and art in one of the most exuberantly autobiographical dramatists of the American theatre.

By the time he died, in 1983, Williams's reputation had seriously declined. More than twenty years of drug and alcohol addiction, coupled with devastating openness about his promiscuous homosexuality, had all but destroyed one of America's greatest playwrights, while Williams's new works were increasingly unsuccessful. In recent years, however, Broadway revivals and amateur productions have testified to his enduring greatness as one of the shapers of American theatre. The major plays, such as 'The Glass Menagerie', 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', and 'A Streetcar Named Desire', never disappeared from American theatrical consciousness. Their heroes - Tom Wingfield, Brick Pollitt, even Blanche Du Bois - are portraits of the artist as a very troubled man.

Hayman explores the life and writings of Tennessee Williams and shows how they were linked. More than any previous biographer, he unmasks the compulsive, driven man behind the characters and lays bare the pain that engendered Williams's violent apocalypses. 'Tennessee Williams' will change the way lovers of drama experience and understand some of its finest achievements.

Few playwrights write as much of their own lives into each work as Tennessee Williams, and few had lives that were so obviously theatrical. Growing up in turmoil among madness and abuse, Williams projected his dramatic personal traumas in plays in which violence exploded into rape, castration, and even cannabalism. 80 illustrations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Hayman ( Proust: A Biography ) analyzes the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) in a study that emphasizes the extent to which Williams based his plays on the events of his life. Born into a Mississippi family with an alcoholic father and a mentally ill sister, Williams, a homosexual, subsequently found his adult relationships difficult. He conducted numerous casual affairs and abused his long-term lovers emotionally. Hayman theorizes that the disturbed and violent characters in such plays as The Glass Menagerie , A Streetcar Named Desire and other works were based on the playwright's family and friends, as well as on Williams himself. After his initial theatrical successes in the 1940s and '50s, Williams became addicted to drugs and alcohol and led a self-destructive life. Although Hayman acknowledges Williams's greatness as a writer, his portrait of the man will strike some readers as basically unsympathetic and as focusing excessively on the playwright's worst qualities. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Hayman's scholarly biography examines the connection between the people in Williams's life and his plays. Filled with photographic memorabilia that is most touching, the book shows that the subject's family, lovers, and companions who accompanied him on his journey through success to failure and decline turn up thematically in his work. As a chronicle of guilt, sexual excess, and drug abuse, this life is more than a detached narrative. It argues that Williams was a fugitive from loneliness and fear all his life, continually moving, with no permanent address, seeking comfort and peace in all the wrong places. By the end, the story becomes an image of American culture at its most fragile. For serious theater collections.-- Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., Mass.
Whitney Scott
Hayman portrays one of America's finest and best-known playwrights as an amalgam of his genuine past experiences and his own proclivity to create himself and his past as he might those of a character in one of his plays. Hayman offers us an elliptically quicksilver personality who could be bellicose in one moment, and self-deprecatingly shy and diffident in the next. Notable for detailed examination of Williams' early life, the biography reveals in the playwright's own life the elements theater lovers recognize as integral to his plays: explosive violence and genteel posturings amid alcoholism, poverty, and descent into madness. Williams' later life as a restless, troubled, promiscuous man driven to writing is examined by Hayman and relate to characters and actions in the plays; he thereby illuminates connections that resulted in some of America's most stunning theatrical productions. These linkings of Williams' life to his art will prove valuable to students, playwrights, and lovers of drama.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300054149
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1993
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.69 (d)

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