Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tennessee Williams: Four Plays (1976)

I bought this copy of Tennessee Williams: Four Plays (1976) because my bookclub was reading Orpheus Descending, and I was happy to get the chance to also check out Summer and Smoke, Suddenly Last Summer, and Period of Adjustment.

Orpheus Descending (1957) is a revised version of Williams' first play, Battle of Angels, which played briefly in 1940 to a poor reception. He couldn't let the story go, though, and revised and reworked it for 17 years until his star was bright enough to give the failed story another shot. The play is about Lady, an Italian woman who runs a confectionery in a small southern town with her sick (and cruel) husband, Jabe. One day a musician comes into town, trying to escape his previous life of partying and stealing. Lady gives him a job at the store and the two begin a love affair with her husband dying in the bedroom upstairs. Things don't end that well for anyone.

Summer and Smoke (1948) is the story of Alma, a preacher's daughter, and the boy next door, John, a doctor's son. Ever since she was a little girl, Alma has loved John, even though he moved from a little boy who teased her to a grown man that mostly ignores her. Alma grows into a high-strung and sensitive adult who gives piano lessons, sings awkwardly at public events, and giggles nervously just about all the time. When John returns home from college he is at loose ends and reconnects with Alma, raising her hopes that they will be together at last. As the year moves on, however, he spends more and more time at the Moon River Casino with the owner's sexy daughter Rosa. Things don't end that well for most of these characters, either. This one is probably my favorite of this batch.

In Suddenly Last Summer (1958) things don't even start all that well. A wealthy New Orleanian woman's doting middle-aged son died while on vacation with his pretty young cousin, Catherine, who has been hysterical since she returned and is being kept in a private mental institution by her wealthy aunt. Mrs. Venable has a Sister bring Catherine to her home from the institution to tell the real story of her son's death, since she does not believe the story that Catherine keeps telling everyone. And to make sure that Catherine doesn't tell anyone the story anymore, her aunt has hired Dr. Cukrowicz to force her niece into getting a lobotomy.

And, finally, in Period of Adjustment (1960) (subtitled High Point over a Cavern: A Serious Comedy) things start out pretty rough, get even rougher in the middle, but end up working out just fine. A newlywed couple, George and Isabel, drop in on George's old army buddy Ralph on their second day of marriage. Things didn't go well on their first night as a married couple, and they are both pretty riled up about it. Ralph isn't doing too much better since his wife packed up their young son and left him earlier that day. Oh, and it is also Christmas Eve. It turns out that both of the couples are just going through a period of adjustment.

I really like Tennessee Williams -- everything about his plays is heightened and tragic and romantic and sad, and that is just the kind of thing I like. I can understand why he doesn't appeal to everyone, but if you like Williams, this collection of some of his less well-known plays is worth checking out.

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