About the Playwright- Tennessee Williams

When I write I don’t aim to shock people, and I’m surprised when I do. But I don’t think that anything that occurs in life should be omitted from art, though the artist should present it in a fashion that is artistic and not ugly. I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.
— Tennessee Williams
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Tennessee Williams is considered among the three foremost playwrights of the 20th-century, along with contemporaries Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller.  He has created some of the most iconic pieces of theatre including A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, both of which won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  His plays set a framework for playwrights and continue to inspire our culture through his timeless themes and earned him a place in the American Theatre Hall of Fame .  Deemed a ‘poetic realist’ his lexicon of work is filled with deeply moving, often humorous, dialogue tapping into the core of the human condition.

Typically pulling from his own experiences Williams creates fully realized characters in highly complex situations usually set against the backdrop of the American South.  Many of his characters are seen as representations of people in his immediate circle. The Glass Menagerie, his first commercial success and winner of the New York Critics Circle Award, being the most obviously motivated by Williams’ real world experience.  Pulling directly from his late teens in St. Louis, Menagerie portrays a declassed Southern family.  The cynical son Tom, easily a representation of Tennessee Williams himself (his name growing up was Tom),  lives with a domineering mother Amanda and, at the center of the plot his, painfully shy and broken sister Laura.  His own sister Rose spent her entire life struggling with mental illness and became a driving force behind much of Williams’ life and work lending the framework for many of his characters and plots.

Historic Photograph of   Andy Warhol   (left) and   Tennessee Williams   (right)   talking   on the S.S. France World Journal Tribune photo by James Kavallines

Historic Photograph of Andy Warhol (left) and Tennessee Williams (right) talking on the S.S. France World Journal Tribune photo by James Kavallines

By falling on his own experiences, his sexuality, and interpersonal relationships there is a real world empathy that gives so much depth to his work.  Described as the ‘poet of lost souls’ his characters have become some of the most iconic in theatrical and cinematic history, Blanche . Characters that lend themselves to controversial themes and subject matter at the time of their writing.   As an example, when adapting A Streetcar Named Desire, first produced in 1947, for film the reference to Blanche’s late husband committing suicide after a homosexual affair removed.  The play also focused heavily on the taboo of sexuality and women’s dependence on men, a theme that is also carried throughout Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  

His cultural impact spans far beyond the pages of his time but what makes his plays so pivotal and universally impactful is subjective.  Ask any actress and they will tell you that he has created some of the richest most emotionally diverse female characters ever written. A scholar will talk of his subtlety, utilizing repetitive symbols and impactful use of motifs to highlight his themes.  Designers typically speak to his descriptive stage directions and ability to paint a canvas with his words. Whatever the reason Tennessee Williams’ plays have shaped our culture and continue to be some of the most acclaimed pieces of literature in the American lexicon.

by Clinton Williams | Media & Communications Director -San Jose Stage

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Feb 6 - Mar 3, 2019