Tennessee Williams's Final Full-Length Play Is Staged

Categories: Theater

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And I was there for the opening last night!

It's In Masks Outrageous and Austere, which Tennessee worked on from 1978 to 1983 (the year he died), providing multiple, unfinished drafts which have been cobbled together for this sleek, theatrical production.

Shirley Knight plays a faded, decadent belle named Babe who is losing her sight thanks to cataracts, glaucoma, and having misplaced her glasses. (How's that for heavy symbolism, three times over?)

Her young husband--who is, oxymoronically enough a "distinguished minor poet"--has found a male lover, so Babe busies herself with a couture-wearing matron with a mentally afflicted son in a slicker, a petulant dwarf, a growling black man, and of course the Secret Service-like guards confining her to the netherworld she's been abducted to. (In her Verve Cliquot haze, she thinks it might be Canada. It's not.)

It's all very Tennessee Williams, but even talkier, more florid, and more out there and paranoid than usual.

At the party, director David Schweizer told me he met Williams in 1970, and he's now the age Williams was when they met, so this production seems like destiny for him.

About Williams, he said: "He worked every day, no matter how looped. He was like a tank--he worked no matter what."

And the playwright's own view of Masks?

"[There's] a great deal of poetry in it," he once said, also calling it "extremely funny," and "bizarre as hell."

Sounds like no matter how tipsy, he really knew himself.

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7 comments
BlancheD
BlancheD

"Shirley Knight plays a faded, decadent belle . . ."  Hmm, now who does that remind me of?

Southern Dave
Southern Dave

The late, great writer Gavin Lambert helped assemble this play. He also adapted "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone" in its first screen version, starring Vivien Leigh, Warren Beatty, Lotte Lenya, Coral Browne, Jill St. John and Ernest Thesiger (the campy Dr. Pretorius in "The Bride of Frankenstein"): an incredible -- in every sense of fhe word -- cast.

"Masks"  sounds like a rewrite of "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," which onscreen became the infamous "Boom!" with Liz'n'Dick and Noel Coward. I'm sure that "Boom!" has been, or will be,  screened at La Musto Cinema Club. Like many of his "failed" plays, Williams never stopped working on it.

Adventurous readers of later Williams work would do well to check out Williams' 1980-81-82  play, "A House Not Meant to Stand," which has been published. by New Directions. It's a bookend play to "The Glass Menagerie," and like all of Williams' work, was heavily influnced by what was happening to him at the time of its writing. In the case of "House," how we cope with aging, illness and death. It is also very funny. I first read it in a warehouse-like room at the Historic New Orleans Collection and as I marvelled at Williams' own pencilled-in corrections, my  laughter bounced off the walls.

Inside the same folder as the play were TW notes written on the back of coffee shop receipts, scraps of paper, hotel stationary, etc.This is what one faces when trying to assemble "new"Williams works. It took two staged productions -- at Tulane University and Southern Rep, culling material from three versions of "House" (originally produced at Chicago's Goodman Theater) for New Directions editor/Williams scholar Thomas Keith to come up with a publishable playscript.

Tennessee Williams remains infinitely fascinating.

Geraldine Winifred Visco
Geraldine Winifred Visco

Let's put it this way: will there ever be another Tennessee Williams?!  I doubt that's possible. Even bizarre Williams is well worth seeing and maybe even more so -- I loved "Now The Cats With Jeweled Claws," another later Williams' play, that played at La Mama recently. He seemed to have developed a wicked sense of humor later in life that was less in evidence in some of his other more "serious" dramas.

Teatro
Teatro

I will see Shirley Knight in anything, even a paranoid late period Tennessee Wms mess.

Bwaybill
Bwaybill

This sounds AMAZING. I might have to check it out.

Tinytimber
Tinytimber

And Shirley's character is straight out of "an institution" too.

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