Tennessee Williams's "Serious Comedy": problems of genre and sexuality in (and after) Period of Adjustment.
Its prognosticative shortcomings aside, Williams's statement affirms his commitment to jettisoning his past. Period of Adjustment is a pivot between his best-known work and the assortment of plays that followed. More specifically, the play constitutes his first sustained rejection of comic norms with which he had once been content to experiment, respectfully and by way of developing his familiar theme of alienation. Some examples of prior practice are well known. The Stanley/Stella plot of A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) resolves on a comic note; but the rape and institutionalization of the de facto senex demonstrates comedy's cruel power to protect sanctioned, propagative unions. Summer and Smoke (1948) is both Nellie Ewell's comedy and Alma Winemiller's tragedy. The Rose Tattoo (1951) inverts comedy's generational hierarchy, casting youth as an obstacle to mature sexual coalescence. But in Period of Adjustment Williams is keener on mocking than on molding the assumptions of the genre: the "happy rustle of bridal gowns and banknotes" that Northrop Frye identifies as the terminus of low-mimetic comedy is inaudible, the play's mimicking of this mode notwithstanding. (4) Closure torpedoes comedy's fantasy of future delight by pairing off a quartet of feckless losers in accordance with the genre's mandate of domestic stability but in contradiction to the play's sense of who best suits whom.
Hostile reviewers who recognized Period of Adjustment as formally eccentric were of course unable to consider the play in the context of Williams's later career. But, as I will demonstrate in this sometimes metacritical essay, they were on to something. I will pay particular attention to John Simon's bludgeoning of the play, the astuteness and intolerance of which hint at what Williams was trying to do and at the resistance he faced in trying to do it, and the organization of which provides a useful template for my own analysis. The naysayers were not alone in finding the play confused: differences among textual states suggest that Williams himself was unsure about the terms of his rebellion. The threat to comic convention is more pronounced in pre-performance texts than it would be on stage. Specifically, in the states that preceded the play's debut, Williams amplified Ralph Bates's parasexual interplay with both Isabel Haverstick and Isabel's husband George, thus presenting proscribed pairings as credible impediments to comic closure rather than alluring if airy obstacles.
In 1975 Williams would say that in Period of Adjustment, "I began to go into areas of my own head which were not easily communicable to a large audience." He added that only then was he "beginning" to work through the problem. (5) Williams would push more aggressively against comic constraints in his later work, most pertinently Kingdom of Earth (1968), Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? (1969), and A House Not Meant to Stand (1982). These bluntly "queer" comedies own a mode of generic critique about which Williams apparently became anxious as Period of Adjustment moved toward production. But they do so fantastically, without authorizing the dignified homosexual bond that Williams had tried and failed to write into his "serious comedy."
Period of Adjustment premiered in Miami as a work in progress on 29 December 1958, roughly two months after Williams completed a first draft. (6) Time reported that the playwright was "still undecided about taking it to Broadway," but Williams kept at the project, "considerable" rewrites of which occupied him intermittently until 1960. (7) In its final form the plot is slight, if winningly loopy. Ralph is snowbound at home alone on Christmas Eve, having been deserted by his wife, "a snaggle-toothed bag," in the words of Time's sensitive scribe, and their son, a "sissy," as Ralph repeatedly calls him in a locution that one reviewer found "wryly humorous." (8) Ralph's war buddy George arrives in an antiquated hearse, only to deposit his own wife, Isabel, whom he had married the day before but with whom he has not yet slept. Ralph and Isabel flirt their way through an expository section that ends when George returns. After some triadic awkwardness, George and Ralph repair to the parlor, where the former complains about his wife and the tremors that have afflicted him since his service in Korea and the latter complains about his wife and the "sissy." (9) Tipsily, George fires into his own face the miniature rocket that Ralph has bought for his son's manly amendment. Ralph laughs and makes another "sissy" joke (4:177). Before Isabel exits to walk the Bates's dog, Ralph bundles her in the "beautiful sheared beaver" coat that he had meant to give his wife for Christmas (4:191). The men discuss the prospect of borrowing money, moving to Texas, and raising longhorns.
Outside, Isabel mingles with carolers and veers too close for Ralph's comfort to the home of "a bachelor decorator" where "service men congregate" (4:203). She returns soon before the house is invaded by the loutish parents of Ralph's wife, Dorothea. The old folks raise a ruckus before being forced to retreat by the return of their daughter, who, hoping to become more attractive to her husband, has had her "buck teeth extracted" (4:145). Introductions are made; homely wisdoms are shared; hurt feelings are soothed. After the reconciled couples trundle off to bed, the women are informed that the group is bound posthaste for the plains. Lights dim and the curtain drops. The interpersonal problems, the besting of the senex (or paired senes), and the terminal solidification of the central couples are familiar comic devices. The status of these couples as married at the outset is a modification previously employed by Aristophanes (Lysistrata), Henry Fielding (The Modern Husband), George Bernard Shaw (Candida), and, tweaked to accommodate divorce, Noel Coward (Private Lives). The fact that Williams's characters are dim, broke, middle-aged, and unstable is among the more noteworthy departures from convention, as is the representation of the child as an emblem of an embarrassing present rather than a portent of a roseate future. The fact that the mismatched couples endure--"a notion less comic than ghoulish," one reviewer observed--is more impressive still. (10)
Period of Adjustment opened at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theater on 10 November 1960, and closed the following March after a modest 132 performances. (11) The New Directions edition of the play appeared 14 November, followed sixteen days later by a minimally corrected issue and a few days after that, in Esquire magazine, by a text based on early rehearsals. The Dramatists Play Service edition, the basis of the production proper, was published around 2 October 1961. (12)
Williams was unable to sustain an early enthusiasm for the play. During the run-up to the Miami premiere, he had written his mother that "everyone seems to feel it will be a happy event." Seventeen years later he would recall a belief among his circle that Period of Adjustment "was going to be my most popular play." (13) A letter to Maria St. Just dated 25 December 1960, however, found him questioning his judgment in having thought Period of Adjustment "an unimportant but charming little play that would be a hit." The early responses probably account for this change in attitude. "We got five good notices out of seven in New York," the letter continues, "but the good ones were [not] really good enough to off-set the two bad ones." (14) The numbers were worse than Williams acknowledged: at least seven negative reviews had appeared in New York before he wrote to St. Just. (15)
Reading the early responses with an awareness of Williams's full career illustrates the advantage of hindsight: the playwright was moving fast in 1960, and his outline must have been difficult to discern. The plays apologists found that Williams had written a comedy as advertised, in the casual sense of a funny play that resolves more or less in accordance with recognizable conventions, particularly concerning the ultimate disposition of its central characters. (16) Some detractors found the play's ending unconvincing, but the possibility that it was meaningfully so escaped notice in the context of a theater not yet subjected to the more rambunctious generic assaults of the later 1960s. (17)
The negative reviews were more insightful than those of a sunnier stripe. Consistently, they adduced as evidence of the play's failure affectations crucial to meaning in Period of Adjustment and in Williams's mature dramaturgy generally. John McCarten wrote that Williams "has transformed what might have been a simple domestic comedy into a turbid stew of immiscible ingredients." (18) Two weeks later, Harold Clurman judged the play weakened by "something disturbingly ambiguous, not quite 'straight.'" (19) Simon was crasser, more astringent, and, helpfully, more particular:
There is something lopsided about a play where in each of three married couples the woman takes the aggressive role and initiates the principal events. There is something suspect about a play in which the only intense warmth is generated in the relationship of the two younger husbands. There is something the matter with a play in which the supposedly healthy, solid citizen can readily fall in with an infantile get-rich-quick scheme of a markedly neurotic wartime buddy about whom he feels curiously warm. (20)
The homophobia of these remarks (and the sexism, in Simon's value-added appraisal) is obvious. Less so is a legitimate if misapplied sense of a play at loggerheads with the expectations of comedy, in both the low-mimetic and slangy significations. The elements of comedy as Williams portrays them are indeed "immiscible"; Williams's take on comedy is indeed "ambiguous"; and, indeed, the play is "lopsided" and "suspect" in its adaptation of convention. And if one were to suppose that Williams had written a "straight" comedy of the heterocentric and epithalamic sort, one might well dismiss his effort. Only John Gassner was willing to consider the possibility of ironic detachment: "Now and then I solaced myself with the impression that I detected a saturnine smile lurking behind the pollyannic greasepaint of the work." This disjunction, compelling though it may be to postmodern readers inured to "meta" and remote from the heyday of Simon's feculent biases, could not for Gassner salvage a play that although "without question a comedy" was "a singularly joyless one." (21)
Williams's "saturnine smile" is in fact evident throughout the play, which revels in the immiscibility of its elements. Simon's catalogue of the play's discordant elements serves well here. Although a brushup on Lysistrata, As You Like It, Candida, or The Rose Tattoo might have prompted Simon to temper his comments about the agency of married women in comedy, and although a firmer recollection of the classical tragedians, August Strindberg and Eugene O'Neill, might have helped him ground his observation about married women in plays generally, he is right to find Period of Adjustment unusual in its reliance on married women to advance plot.
What bothered Simon, one suspects, is not the feminizing of plot per se but the legitimation of female desire in the interest of comic closure. Williams respects female sexuality in Period of Adjustment as he does elsewhere. Uncomfortably for conservative critics, this respect comes to the fore in a genre historically motivated by heterosexual desire. Dorothea Bates is a sexual enthusiast, by her husband's account the more energetic of the two in this respect and thus the keener on driving the play back to bed. "She's got so she always wants it," Ralph says, "and when I can't give it to her I feel guilty, guilty" (4:202). Ralph's mock-noble acceptance of Dorothea's "offbeat kind of face" (4:245) in the play's final moments allows his wife to herd him into a bedroom where they had previously occupied separate beds. Williams's "saturnine smile" is here as toothy as the presurgical Dorothea.
The play's other focal couple also must overcome masculinist sexual anxiety. Isabel Haverstick and presumably her husband are virgins throughout the play. (22) Isabel, however, promotes sexual comingling and thus closure while George balks at intimacy. She has packed perfume and an extra "honeymoon nightie" (4:237), but during their first night together George attempts something so untoward that she will represent the experience only as a "nightmare" that she is unwilling to particularize (4:160). Isabel seeks the pleasures and benefits of comic closure; George's unspecified shenanigans defer closure and recall feints of a sort perfected by generations of skittish comic heroines.
Ralph theorizes that his friend's demurrals testify to the "violence" that he carries within him (4:211). In an exchange hostile to readings of the play as a simple comedy, Ralph and George discuss the nuptial deployment of the latter's penis. George complains that Isabel is the sort of woman who wants "to cut it off" (4:209). His construction is a reflexive and obviously figurative: he means that Isabel is sexually inaccessible to him, not that she wishes to detach his penis. But Ralph's eagerness to concretize the implied antecedent of George's "it" facilitates his claim that George's inadequacies make him a monster of impotent lust while emphasizing his own voyeuristic inclinations. Analyzing the fiasco of the wedding night, he tells George that "lacking confidence with it, you wanted to hit her, smash her, clobber her with it." Women like "tenderness," he adds, not "roughness like raping" (4:210--11). Ralph's praise of "tenderness" (see also 4:213) gives him a modicum of cover, but we again see George's inability to route his sexual impulses through the channels on which closure depends.
Williams plays a subtle game by making Isabel, the "little ole Texas girl" with "mighty French taste in nighties," the more assertive of the newlyweds (4:240). If he means a heterosexual male audience to pulse at the sight of her "remarkably cute little figure" (4:144) decked out fireside in a "little pink slip" (4:245), he means also to destabilize desire by positing access to the scene as one's reward for having owned up, as George ultimately does, to a history of sexual confusion masked by piggish braggadocio. (23) (Regarding prostitutes, Ralph opines, "that's not women, that's gash." George, chiastic and porcine, responds "gash are women" [4:177].) George's radical misogyny is exposed in order that his sexual maturity may begin. The agent of this transformation is his wife, as Simon seems to have understood.
The play's textual history shows that Williams was uncertain about the extent and the foci of Isabel's sexuality. The New Directions edition ramps up a sexual tension between Isabel and Ralph that had not been subtle even on stage. In a review that predated the publication of the first edition, John McClain noted that "there is an immediate rapport between the newlywed nurse ... and the old chum." (24) The review was positive, and no doubt McClain recognized that "immediate rapport" between Mr. and Ms. Wrong is part of the game that comedy plays, a possibility it delights in evaluating and insists on denying. But the New Directions edition tips what McClain calls "rapport" to what Simon (who had access to that edition) calls the woman's assumption of "the aggressive role." The interactions of Isabel and Ralph look like signs of ideality rather than conventional plot complications. They seem better suited to a "problem play" or a divorce comedy.
The most sustained instance of frisson between Ralph and Isabel occurs toward the end of the first act in the New Directions edition, in the section that begins with Ralph's revelation that he was raised in an orphanage (4:152) and ends before Isabel's account of the wedding night (4:159). (25) The section is omitted in the acting edition. Isabel responds to Ralph's remark about his boyhood with an exposition of the "heroic daydreams" (4:153) that prompted her to study nursing. In the tawdry pastiche that follows, she tends to and is infected by her patients. When Ralph asks her if "a dedicated young doctor" figures in her fantasies, she replies, "no, the doctor would be older, well, not too old, but--older" (4:153). Ralph, who is thirty-seven, presses her on the matter. He creates with her a catalogue of dermatological aberrancies--"crusty-lookin' blemish" (4:153) and so forth--that he and she would treat together. In this way he prompts her to insinuate him more firmly into her fantasy. Isabel imagines herself as "contractin'" the plague:
Ralph: And the young doctor discovering you were concealing this condition?
Isabel: The youngish middle--aged doctor, Mr. Bates! Yais, discovering I had contracted the plague myself and then a big scene in which she says, Oh, no, you mustn't touch me but he seizes her passionately in his arms, of course, and--exposes himself to the contagion. (4:153-54)
Ralph "chuckles heartily getting off stool to poke at the fire"; the ardor waxes when Isabel "joins him on the floor to fan the flames" (4:154). Ralph then takes off Isabel's shoes and "feels the sole of her stocking" (4:154). Finding the stockings wet, he instructs Isabel to remove them as well. Next, he decks her out in a pair of his wife's "soft fleecy pink slippers" (4:155). If a fire can gild a lily, this one does:
Suddenly the blazing logs make a sharp cracking noise; a spark apparently has spit out of the grate onto Isabel's skirt. She gasps and springs up, retreating from the fireplace, and Ralph jumps off the bar stool to brush at her skirt. Under the material of the Angora wool skirt is the equal and warmer softness of her young body. (4:156)
The "heater" that "gave off no heat" (4:160)--George's backdrop on his wedding night--can hardly compete with this inferno. Vis-a-vis comedy, that's a problem. Or a statement.
The scene is not subtle, nor is it meant to be. Williams has used a symbol to do what he always used symbols to do: to "say a thing more directly and simply and beautifully than it could be said in words." (26) But he has also used it in a way that makes him confront the eccentricity of his comic plot. In his later plays, he would embrace eccentricities of this sort. In this transitional play, he nervously attempts a retreat. The end of his stage direction is disingenuous:
Ralph is abruptly embarrassed.... This is a moment between them that must be done just right to avoid misinterpretation. Ralph would never make a play for the bride of a buddy. What should come out of the moment is not a suggestion that he will or might but that Dotty's body never felt that way.... What comes out of Isabel's reaction is a warm understanding of his warm understanding; just that, nothing more. (4:156)
Williams asks his reader to ignore the scene's obvious symbolic resonance. The vaginal cinder "directly and simply" physicalizes a desire that Ralph has helped create through his particularizing of Isabel's fantasy, and this looks very much like "making a play for" her. Ralph and Isabel manifest the undeniable sexuality of the comic A-couple, down to the teasing talk that Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing calls the "merry war" of young lovers. (27) Restoration comedy provides the most fertile fund of example but merely takes advantage of a certain historical moment to emphasize a characteristic never far from the surface of the genre. The problem is that Williams's Walmart redactions of, say, William Congreve's Mirabel and Millamant end up bunking down with their inferiors. Commenting on the couple in this scene, Gerald Weales says that "the means to their mutual attraction is verbal, and the voices are comic." He downplays the threat posed to low--mimetic comedy, however, when he asserts that "although there are erotic overtones in their behavior," Ralph and Isabel relate "as friends, who can share a laugh." (28)
Williams also binds Ralph and George tighter than he might have done, and Simon is again on target when he notices the "warmth ... in the relationship of the two younger husbands." Even his reference to George as "homosexual" is creditable, the sneer notwithstanding. (29) Simon was not alone in recognizing the play's homoerotic aspect. Thomas Faw Driver, for example, thought the plot suspect because "the two men are more attracted to each other than to their wives." (30) Neither critic would have been hard pressed to support his claim. Even before George enters, we encounter him as a familiar presence in Williams: the wan, noncompliant male injudiciously selected by the caring and quasi-maternal woman. The prototype of the man whom Isabel calls "a boy" (4:138) is Blanche DuBois' dead husband, the homosexual "boy" in whom Blanche recalls "something different ... a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn't like a man's" (1:354). The "shy" (3:412), fastidious, and preternaturally youthful Sebastian Venable in Suddenly Last Summer (1958) also pertains. Sebastian's sexuality is obscured, thus (this being Williams) announced, both by the Bernarda Alba-like mother who insists that he died "chaste" (3:361) and by the younger procuress who "loved him" (3:375) and "tried to save him" in "a sort of motherly way" (3:397). (31) Isabel recalls dating George: "He always wanted us to go out on double dates or with a whole bunch of--others. And when we were alone? Together? There was a--funny, oh, a very odd--sort of--timidity!--between us.... And that, of course is what touched me; oh, that--touched me" (4:158; omitted in Esquire). Williams draws on his own experience. In his memoir, he recalls collegiate double dates with two "girls" and a young man with whom he shared "love ... without any outlet for the physical side of the attachment." (32) More broadly, ethereal disengagement is one of Williams's stock devices for telegraphing homosexuality, and perhaps Williams means to imply that George's "timidity," not George himself, "touched" Isabel. Ralph's revelation that during the war George would quietly "teach ... English" to the Japanese prostitutes whom he claimed to have "laid ... to waste" (4:159) restates something we should already know: George doesn't much care for women. Belatedly, we appreciate the irony of Ralph's improvised suggestion that George had driven off in the first scene because "he just remembered something he had to, had to--go and get at a--drugstore" (4:135; omitted in Esquire).
Time's review of the Miami premiere states that on the wedding night George "leaped" at Isabel "like a satyr." The account would resurface in a 1961 monograph, implicitly as evidence of George's heterosexuality. (33) But in all published states and in the prepublication states that I have examined, Isabel declines to detail George's behavior on that night, describing him as naked and drinking stilly in front of his heatless heater. Something unpleasant happened, but we are given no reason to think that Isabel's humiliation included an attempt at genital coitus. One might cautiously speculate that Isabel's reticence recalls Williams's disgusted reaction to his first known homosexual encounter, which he declined to specify but in which he may have been cast in the receptive role that he seemed not to prefer. (34) We cannot rule out the possibility that the rebuffed and sulky George attempted to sodomize his bride, an obvious disavowal of the tenets of a genre reliant on the presumption of fecundity. If this speculation is responsible, the play's terminal aggrandizement of salvific heterosexual congress could only be ironic. (35)
Although Isabel had reacted with horror to George on their wedding night, Ralph thrums in response to her account of it. Enlivened by Isabel's description of her boozy, bare, and backlit husband, he exclaims, "Hey! Let me kiss the bride! Huh? Can I kiss the bride?" (4:160). George's failure as a heterosexual becomes the occasion for Ralph's outing of himself as a sexual omnivore, not less disquietingly for seeming to take the form of solace. It is no wonder that George's entrance at the start of act 2 spikes the mercury. A reader in a hug-happy epoch might gloss over the stage direction that requires the men to "catch each other in a big, rocking hug" (4:163). It is harder, however, to ignore the incoherent if unmistakable sexuality of Ralphs verbal greeting: "I'm the son of a camel, ha ha! My mother was a camel with two humps, a double hump--dromedary! Ha ha ha!" (4:163; omitted in Esquire). As if in response to this disinhibited ejaculation, the men quickly settle into a rapid-fire exchange of sexualized epithets redolent of co-opted homosocial intimacy. Ralph's George is a "tail gun" (4:163) and a "Texas jack rabbit" (4:164); George's Ralph is a "young squirrel" (4:163). The exchange gives way to an "incongruous stillness," during which George is "suddenly embarrassed" (4:164). The spell is broken by an initially stilted discussion that soon relaxes to include japes about Ralph's son, the "sissy"; the role of mothers in feminizing sons; and the superiority of Doberman pinschers--"a dawg with some guts"--to Ralph's poodle--a "whiner" (4:165). Isabel complains to George, "I might as well not be present! For all the attention that I have been paid since you and your buddy had this tender reunion!" (4:169). (36)
Like Ralph and Isabel's flirtatiousness, the homosocial bond is toned down in the acting edition. The "big, rocking hug" becomes an "embrace" (DPS 21), and the persifleurs settle for one "jack-rabbit" and a "tail gunner" (DPS 21). Ralph's dromedary vanishes. (37) Nothing remains of the timid boy who, like young Tom Williams, wanted to date girls only in the company of other boys. But the most pertinent aspect of the play's textual history concerns the respectful "queering" of George, and to a lesser extent Ralph, in two states of the October 1958 first draft. It is easy to imagine why the scenes did not survive. Their treatment of barely concealed homosexuality violated representational norms as surely as it deviated from Williams's tendency to meld the gay and the grotesque, evident recently in Suddenly Last Summer and intermittently throughout his career.
The excised readings were originally included in George and Ralph's conversation, after Isabel's exit with the dog. In the typescript as in the New Directions edition, George "comes up beside Ralph and rests an affectionate arm on his shoulders" (4:192). But in the typescript George calls attention to his trembling hands, thus emphasizing something else he has in common with Williams: the tendency to respond to sexual possibility by doing what Williams would call his "shaking leaf bit." (38) When George continues to shake, Ralph "takes hold of his hand, grips it tightly." Williams's follow-up is Lawrentian:
THEY stand there with tightly gripped hands in the flickering firelight, as if engaged in a game of Indian-wrestling. RALPH slides off the high stool, grinning, and tries to force GEORGE'S arm down, GEORGE grins sadly back at him, resisting the pressure and gradually forcing RALPHS arm back.
Ralph "gives up" and the talk turns again to piffle, but he "still has hold of GEORGES hand." (39)
A carbon copy of the draft with autograph emendations constructs this scene mythopoetically. In a passage marked for deletion, Ralph imagines San Antonio, with its "winding river" beloved of George. Abruptly, George interrupts him, charging his friend to "forget the river, the winding! Just think about you and me, free!" Ralph responds to this intimacy by lamenting his marriage; George responds to Ralphs lamentation by praising the "real freedom" that he imagines for himself and his friend in Texas. Touched, Ralph exclaims, "Hey! How's my boy!," then again "embraces" his friend. Ralph gets in another "you old Texas jack-rabbit," and George offers another "you old--son of a--tail-gun." Then "THEY rock together in their close, affectionate embrace, grinning, chuckling, squeezing each other's shoulders convulsively." George's conclusion is elegiac. "We never should of wasted these five years," he says, "we should have followed out the original plan right away, then my shakes would not of come back on me and you would never of got you'self tied with a wife an' a--." Panicked, Ralph changes the subject, saying, "not so fast, I cain't follow." (40)
In these passages Williams writes with a clarity and a passion that recall his best work. One detects in the prepublication states a conflict between the author's heart and his commercial instincts. Williams was right to discard these scenes: they lead nowhere, or at least nowhere acceptable. But the fact that they did lead nowhere, I would guess, has plenty to do with the discomfort that lingers in all published states of Period of Adjustment.
Simon's final objection concerns "a play in which the supposedly healthy, solid citizen can readily fall in with an infantile get-rich-quick scheme of a markedly neurotic wartime buddy." His criticism of the play is again undermined by his belief that Williams has tried and failed to write conventional comedy. Although Simon errs in implying that health and solidity are pre-requisites rather than termini for comic protagonists, he is right to find the ending at odds with the rest of the play.
The main problem with Simon's claim is that the play neither shows nor promises a "healthy" Ralph. In his analysis of "the returning soldier's rehabilitation" in Period of Adjustment and Green Eyes (1970), Michael S. D. Hooper notes that both George and Ralph are in the grip of "tensions in their domestic lives, particularly of a sexual nature," that "are attributable to their combat experiences and a consequent crisis of masculinity." (41) Whatever the cause of his psychosis, Ralph is troubled, a misfit of a sort that Williams relishes but hardly a candidate for top billing in a conformist genre. His voyeurism makes him a descendent of the bare-chested Alvaro Mangiacavallo, who "crouches ... in a leapfrog position" over his lover's sleeping daughter in The Rose Tattoo (2:406), and of the quietly domineering Sebastian Venable, who in Suddenly Last Summer stage-manages elaborate erotic scenarios. He is nothing like the "healthy, solid citizen" exemplified by Jim O'Connor in The Glass Menagerie (1945) or Roger Doremus in Summer and Smoke--although the imperfectness of these examples attests to Williams's skepticism about the category that Simon blithely posits. Ralph's fervid response to Isabel's exposition of her wedding night and his fetishistic treatment of her feet merit mention in this respect. And surely we are meant to look askance at Ralph's proposal that George claim Isabel's virginity in his and Dorothea's bedroom while he sits in the adjoining room, television turned up a notch or two--a possibility that causes George to start "shakin' to pieces" (4:181).
Tough to ignore too is the free-floating symbol of the "sheared beaver-skin coat" (4:167) that Ralph buys for the formerly bucktoothed (beaver-like) Dorothea, then decides to sell in order to finance a solo trip to Hong Kong, then gives to Isabel, then returns to Dorothea, and then again determines to sell, this time in order to help fund the relocation to Texas. This symbol--an omnisexualist's complement to the "soft fleecy pink slippers"--shrinks the distance between George ("gash are women") and Ralph, whose interest in women is shown also to confer upon them a crudely genital identity. The coat is an analogue of Ralph's centrifugal tendencies, which surge away from the woman on whom his comic coalescence depends. When Ralph does settle on Dorothea, he does so briefly and equivocally. The marriage is reaffirmed, but Dorotheas "soft fleecy pink slippers" seem no more compatible with "a piece of ranchland near San Antone" (4:193) than, Ralph has implied, her beaver (coat) would have been.
Ralph's attempts to blur the lines between the two women indicate a relativistic inability to discriminate in a genre that is at bottom hierarchical. Through his totalizing imagination, Ralph gives force to a final scene in which the women, in separate rooms, wear matching nightgowns. In a manner that recalls the dramaturgy of O'Neill in (for example) The Great God Brown and More Stately Mansions, he has willed the women imagistically to merge. Closure finds him in bed both with his wife and, metonymically, the lovelier Isabel, whose lingerie her new friend wears. O'Neill's Hickey comes to mind, too, as do Henrik Ibsen's Gregers Werle and Halvard Solness and the Serebryakov of Williams's beloved Anton Chekhov. Like these social engineers (and again like Sebastian Venable), Ralph attempts to control the actions of those in his orbit, gesturing fraudulently at social cohesion while prosecuting his own desire. These characters are all ego and id. There is not a bit of "solid citizen" to them.
Ralph's centrifugality defines the play, maybe in a way that Simon felt and plainly in a manner hostile to the centripetalism of comedy. Isabel's reiterated delight in Ralph's "sweet" home and furnishings (e.g., 4:131) cues up the amalgamative domestic urge that comedy honors by stuffing the pockets of its terminal couples with cash and equipping them for participation in a society rich in perquisites. But the fact that the house is falling into the cavern named in the subtitle reveals the irony behind Isabel's effusions, and Ralph's and George's interest in disposing of the home's furnishings points up the challenge that Isabel faces in actualizing her comic/domestic fantasy. The ending is a systematic negation of the usual practices of comedy, not only in its rejection of domestic stability (literally) but also in its disavowal of financial stability. Mocking the expectation of centripetence, the group commits to a scheme that is, as Simon notes, "infantile." The couples will flee the home and will presumably fritter away what little money they are able to collect on their way out the door. Ralph might as well be talking about comic convention when he says that "marriage is an economic arrangement in many ways" (4:143). But in Period of Adjustment Williams ties the resurrection of marriage to a disavowal of the centripetal economic model exemplified by Dorothea's parents, the grotesque McGillicuddys. (42)
Infantile or not, the terminal fantasy finds no room for children, typically the unseen abundance behind comedy's closing curtain. ("The world must be peopled," proclaims Shakespeare's Benedick.) (43) The only child in the play is the spectral butt of anxious jokes, unaccounted for in the play's ending. Williams thus sloughs off lineal continuance along with other generic encumbrances. Factoring in Clurman's observation that the play's four principals "all seem to be persons of subnormal intelligence" helps us appreciate an ending that might not have been out of place in The Three Stooges. (44) No one deserves or seems likely to get much of anything other than the continuance of their goofiness, and neither consolidation nor elevation looms. This comes as a surprise only if we have expected more from the characters than Williams has given us cause to expect.
David Savran praises Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) for opposing the hypocrisy of plays like Robert Anderson's Tea and Sympathy (1953) that denounce homosexuality while "revealing the glaring contradictions that inhere within a homophobic, masculinist ideology." In the case of Tea and Sympathy, the athleticism of the endeavor declares itself at closure. "As is so frequently the case with popular treatments of 'social problems,'" Savran continues, "the ending of the play does not attempt to resolve this contradiction, but buries it in a flurry of heterosexual passion and sentiment." (45) As Savran recognizes, Cat addresses this "problem" by bucking tradition. Period of Adjustment does so by imitating it, ironically. The fact that only Weales detected the thematic resonance of the Bates house's terminal "rumble" suggests that Williams made his point too subtly, although the diminution of the "queer" strain does blunt the joke (4:243). (46) Williams would henceforth be more blatant in his rejiggering of comedy to accommodate homosexual desire.
Many of Williams's later plays, arguably comedies or inarguably not so, follow Period of Adjustment in reconfiguring the elements of low-mimetic comedy: propulsive and respectable sexual desire, social integration, money, and implicit propagation. Post-sexual couples dominate I Can't Imagine Tomorrow (1966), The Frosted Glass Coffin (1970), Lifeboat Drill (1979), and This Is the Peaceable Kingdom (ca. 1980). Kirche, Kuche, Kinder (1979) takes a different tack. As Annette J. Saddik points out in reference to that play's pregnant, ninety-nine year old Fraulein, Williams follows Beckett in portraying desire as remnant "in a perversely comic guise well after youth and beauty wane." (47) The same could be said of A Cavalier for Milady (ca. 1976) and The Traveling Companion (1981). Kirche, Kuche, Kinder makes a complementary move when the Kinder, trained to sell sex, choose to "GIVE IT / AWAY, LIKE FOR NOTHING, BUT LOVE!" thus spoofing comedy's symbiosis of youthful sexuality and financial benefit. (48) In a manner that recalls The Glass Menagerie as well as Period of Adjustment, closing scenes of dispersal follow futile gestures at consolidation in Small Craft Warnings (1972); The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore; and, more optimistically, Vieux Carre (1977). Something Cloudy, Something Clear (1981) yearns for a comic resolution that is prohibited by the play's autobiographical origins. Biography thwarts similar inclinations in Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), a play about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In The Notebook of Trigorin (1981-82), Williams's adaptation of Chekhov's generically eccentric Seagull, Trigorin is focal and bisexual. Williams thus heightens the ambivalence toward women that even in Chekhov's original ill suits Trigorin for participation in the plot-propulsive fantasies of Nina and Arkadina.
Three late plays--Kingdom of Earth, Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis?, and A House Not Meant to Stand--recall Period of Adjustment in thematically declaring low-mimetic comedy inadequate to the representation of vicissitudinous human desire. Each encodes a bolder critique than Williams had managed in the earlier play. Kingdom of Earth does not pretend that marriage saves "sissies" or that plot-propulsive sexuality is uncomplicated by baseness. Mr. Merriwether ridicules heterosexual marriage by pasting together buffoonish or doomed couples. And in House, anal sex effects fecundity and pecuniosity, thus shattering the heterosexual monopoly on comic closure.
Williams described Kingdom of Earth as a "funny melodrama"; it is also a parody of comic convention. (49) Myrtle, familiarly a nervous Southern woman with a dubious past, jumps a queue leading into a television studio. Inside, she finds herself "right smack in the middle of a TV show.... standin' in front of a mike with cameras and lights on me, telling my story, broadcasting my woes to the world" (5:148). Her performance earns her the title of "Take-Life-Easy-Queen" and "a small fortune in electric household equipment" (5:149). Lot Ravenstock emerges from the audience and makes a date with Myrtle. Soon, they are married on television.
Myrtle's compressed retrospective narration constitutes a comedy in miniature, the absurdity of which advertises Williams's parodic intentions. The marriage looks hopeless even before Myrtle describes the wedding: we have already met Lot as an iteration of the "boy" manifest in Williams from Blanche's husband in A Streetcar Named Desire to Isabel's husband in Period of Adjustment. Lot is "frail" and "delicately ... pretty" (5:127), "refined" and "nervous" (5:135), tubercular and remote. He elicits in Myrtle a desire "to protect and care ... always!" (5:158). Following a wedding night as respectful of Lot's chastity as George Haverstick's is of his, the newlyweds drive through wind, lightning, and rising floodwaters to Lot's familial property, where Lot's half brother, the mixed-race Chicken, serves as caretaker. As in Period of Adjustment, the desirable home inspires the newlywed woman's rhapsodic praise. In both plays, arrival at the home is heralded meteorologically and ironically. The inclemencies of the later play constitute a mock-heroic commentary on the humble aspirations of comedy, as do the ice and snow of the earlier play.
In Kingdom of Earth, comedy stumbles where it does in Period of Adjustment: when the newlyweds, eager to demonstrate their legitimacy, present themselves to representatives of the larger society. Promptly upon their arrival, the impotent husband Lot becomes the obstacle to legitimate coupling. The agent is again female desire, which here modulates to favor the "manlier" Chicken. Tellingly, where Ralph had sought to disencumber himself of the trimmings of domesticity, Lot lacks the strength to transport Myrtle's appliances into the domus. Irritated both by his chattering wife and his bestial half brother, Lot retires upstairs to concoct a strategy for keeping the property out of Chicken's hands after his own death. Failing in this, he contemplates his mortality and dons his dead mother's clothes, in which he will descend at play's end. On a split stage that recalls Period of Adjustment's division between parlor and bedroom, Myrtle alternately attempts to administer to her feverish husband and, with an equivalent lack of success, to resist Chicken's advances. (50) The verbal interplay of comedy's A-couples degenerates into a series of vulgar double entendres to which Myrtle responds according to her ability to suppress her desire for Chicken and to her increasingly evident need for his protection. Succumbing, she fellates him, thus referencing comedy's sexual basis without honoring the propagative intention that justifies it. (51)
The play ends with Lot dead downstairs and Chicken and Myrtle on their way to the roof, she having secured passage by committing to satisfy his demand to "produce me a son." The agreement testifies to Myrtles frightened acquiescence in Chickens desire for "a child from an all-white woman," not to the delighted surrender of the principals in a Shakespearean "merry war." As the couple prepares to ascend, "a great booming sound" signals the onset of the flood and interrupts Myrtles preposterous declaration that Chickens proposal has triggered her maternal inclinations (5:214). (52) We recall the loud tectonic trembling of the Bates house that accompanies the more prettily packaged if no more convincing ending of Period of Adjustment (4:243).
Kingdom of Earth is equal parts Coward and Hobbes, an assertion both of the risibility of the fantasies on which comedy depends and of the brutalism of the genre's processes of selection. Fantasy takes another hit in Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? The heroine is the widow Louise, who pines for the titular character, formerly her lodger but since moved to Memphis, and who frets about her bright and beautiful daughter Gloria, newly conscious of her sexual magnetism. The third pillar of this gynocentric community is Louise's friend and fellow widow, Nora, whose husband was "run down by a beer truck on a business trip to Milwaukee while still in his thirties." (53) A feminized supernaturalism pervades the play. Louise and Nora are given to entertaining "apparitions" (e.g., 235); the primal Emerald Eldridge has a face made of wax and can "draw" the "youth" out of any "black man that attracts her" (280). Echoing Macbeth, three "crones" busily "stitch" Gloria's future into their "fabrics" (256). Gloria's power, like her name, hints at mysticism. In an image animated by the fundamentalist Protestantism of Williams's South, "tender knowledge" of Gloria cures the young woman's lover of stuttering (259).
Like Lady Torrance and Vee Talbot in Orpheus Descending (1957), Heavenly Finley in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and Isabel Haverstick in Period of Adjustment, these women are too substantial for the partners to whom Williams assigns them. A trio of thin men claims them in the final moments of the play. Mr. Merriwether "steps through a window with a daisy between his teeth" (283). More interested in reinhabiting his old room than in cohabiting with his would-be lover, this vaudeville cutout is a manifestation of Williams's interest in gay camp. (54) Nora's husband Cornelius flickers back to life, but he is a cad and a profligate. "You cooked very well, Nora, and you were always cheerful or pretended to be," he says, "You showed no sign of knowing what you must have known: that I was not just sometimes unfaithful, but unfaithful all the time" (286). The Romantically Handsome Youth, gorgeous but jejune, may be destined for thuggery. As the Fatal Sisters sew the youngsters' lives, a wife "howls" offstage "with the voice of a wildcat" after her husband strikes her for having hidden his bottle of booze (257). Whether this is meant to reveal the future of the young lovers, as seems likely, or whether it constitutes an exercise in counterpoint, the implication is the same: comedy's hints at future happiness are delightful, but they are also baseless.
As the lights dim, the three couples dance to a banjo while "delicate rainbow colors flood the white room" (286). Unsurprisingly, the "fantastic cakewalk" is hued by "a barely perceptible touch of sadness" (285). As in Period of Adjustment, the pretense of certainty declares the omnipresence of uncertainty. Frye's "wholesale pairing off that takes place in a dance" has rarely been this disrespectful of the conventions on which it draws. (55)
A House Not Meant to Stand, like Period of Adjustment, is a comedy of the "mistakes of a night" variety, to borrow the subtitle of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. The sun sets, everything goes catawampus; and daylight, visible or impending, promises the reestablishment of order. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a familiar antetype; bedroom farce helps populate the subgenre. But House keeps us at a remove from dawn. As Thomas Keith notes, Williams set the play in "the two hours between midnight and two A.M.," a decision that "helps to remove the 'normalcy' of a drawing room comedy and heighten the humor." (56) Keith's observation hints at a tussle between meanings of "comedy." Humor is indeed "heightened" by the play's nocturnality, but it is heightened at the expense of generic convention, which demands that the very sun awaken to bless the unions of the young. The nocturnal setting facilitates Williams's farcical sight gags even as it prompts us to question the validity of the comic conclusion toward which the play lurches.
As in Period of Adjustment and Kingdom of Earth, the action is set against a storm, the melodramatic effect of which teases the play away from its comic moorings. Cornelius and Bella McCorkle return to their ramshackle home after the funeral of their gay son, whose sexuality Cornelius treats with a contempt that recalls Ralph Bates on his "sissy" son. Upstairs, the surviving son, Charlie, sodomizes his girlfriend Stacey, who will be slim and sensuous when she stands towel-draped at the head of the stairs at the end of act 1 but fidgety and seven months pregnant when she moves to descend at the start of act 2, real time be damned. Bella panics because she cannot recall where she has hidden "the Dancie money," her grandparents' mysterious fortune. After much noise and business, the ghost of the dead son materializes and points his mother to the booty. The play ends with Bella finding the money, keeping it from her false friend, Jessie, then dying, having managed to preserve the fortune "not for Jessie, not for Cornelius--for Charlie's--children--coming." (57)
A House Not Meant to Stand invokes the low-mimetic tradition with punkish contempt. Plot concerns the social legitimation of a young couples passion following that couple's besting of obstacles. As in Kingdom of Earth, passion manifests itself as nonreproductive sex but does so here without implying future propagation. This provides one layer of irony, given the heterocentrism of low-mimetic comedy. The proposition that anal intercourse may be reproductive after all provides another layer. Williams amended George Haverstick's homosexual inclinations in order to push Period of Adjustment toward closure, but in this play he proposes a more imaginative if perhaps no less fantastic solution.
Fantastic (and farcical), too, is the vanquishing of the senes. In a scene that recalls Chicken's harassment of the skirt-clad Myrtle from an inferior position on a stairwell (see 5:165), the aged, slobbering Emerson Sykes ogles the toweled Stacey, belittles her lover, offers her money for sex, and advances toward her. Comedy defends its purview to fine effect. "Don't you dare to climb up one step higher or I will--begins Stacy. The use of deus ex machina recalls Moliere (Tartujfe) and Bertolt Brecht (The Caucasian Chalk Circle): "Emerson is seized by a slight cardiac attack. He staggers down the steps, fumbling in his pocket for nitro-glycerin tablets. He spills them, then falls to knees to recover a tablet, puts it in his mouth and washes it down with beer" (46). The hapless lecher hovers a while on the plot's perimeter before being removed to an asylum. Cornelius, who regards Stacey as a prostitute and thus not a proper agent of lineal continuance, is banished to the Moose Lodge, there possibly to await arrest.
Happily pregnant after being unhappily subjected to an act "that's for boys" (12), Stacey emerges as Charlie's fiancee. The deflationary cadences of the line in which Charlie announces the engagement assure us that Williams's "saturnine smile" has lost none of its sparkle. "T'morrow," Charlie says of his beloved, "she is gonna be Stacey McCorkle" (61). Indeed she is, and what terminal epithalamium could do justice to this nugget of simplicity and pith? None, apparently, but the future Mrs. McCorkle will be rewarded with cash and the co-ownership of a dilapidated home that she and her doltish husband may spruce up according to their new station. As the curtain falls, "a phrase of music is heard" (86). A banjo would be appropriate.
Four years after declaring himself "through with" his "'black' plays," Williams judged Period of Adjustment "about as black as Orpheus Descending." He would come to regard the play as "not funny" at all. (58) The about-face is not difficult to understand. In Period of Adjustment, I have argued, Williams was unable to reconcile proscribed desire--extramarital and, more urgently, homosexual--to the conventions of comedy. Detractors were right to find the play a mess, generically speaking. But the play's awkwardness, noted by Simon and others, advertises the unpersuasive attenuation of transgression and not, as Simon thought, its dominance. To some extent, Williams would solve the problem in the later comedies that I have discussed, but he would do so only by declining to portray homosexual love as homosexual, much less as dignified. Period of Adjustment points towards a future rich in intelligent experimentation while remaining uniquely ambitious in its conception.
University of North Texas
I am grateful for the assistance of Max Cohen, Melissa Jean Cooper of Dramatists Play Service, James Cox, Jacqueline Foertsch, Tom Keymer, Annette Saddik, Jon Savage, Robert Upchurch, Jacqueline Vanhoutte, and the insightful readers who refereed this essay.
(1) T. H. Wenning, "Unbeastly Williams," Newsweek, 27 June 1960,96; Williams had assured Newsweek, 28 March 1959, 76, that his new play, then in revision, had "a happy ending." See also Williams, "Prelude to a Comedy" (1960), in Williams, New Selected Essays: Where I Live, ed. John S. Bak (New York: New Directions, 2009), 116, on no longer treating "a problem" in his plays "as if it affected the whole future course of the world." Gerald Weales, "Period of Adjustment: High Comedy Over a Cavern" (1989), Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams, ed. Robert A. Martin (New York: G. K. Hall, 1997), 154, notes that Williams's interviews around this time were "advertisements" for Period of Adjustment intended to show "a new Williams ... who has put aesthetic violence behind him."
(2) See Weales, "Period," 154. Williams's early work on Period of Adjustment overlapped work on Sweet Bird of Youth (1959): see Williams, "Foreword to Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), in New Selected Essays, 94; and Williams, letter to Elia Kazan ("Gadg"), 29 December 1958, Austin, Harry Ransom Center, Tennessee Williams collection, 54.15.
(3) Wenning, "Unbeastly Williams," 96. For humor in the late plays, see Annette Saddik, "Too Grotesque and Too Funny for Laughter: Publishing the Late Tennessee Williams," Tenn at One Hundred: The Reputation of Tennessee Williams," ed. David Kaplan, 261-78. For revisions that undermined comedy in Milk Train, see Francis X. Kuhn's entry on the play in The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia, ed. Philip C. Kolin (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004), 148.
(4) Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957; U. of Toronto Press, 2006), 42. See also Frye, 41, on the low-mimetic New Comedy that "normally presents an erotic intrigue between a young man and a young woman which is blocked by some kind of opposition, usually paternal, and resolved by a twist in the plot." This is the tradition that I reference throughout the essay.
(5) Williams, interview by Charles Ruas (1975), Conversations with Tennessee Williams, ed. Albert J. Devlin (U. Press of Mississippi, 1986), 285.
(6) See, e.g., "Tennessee Laughter," Time, 12 January 1959, 56. Williams's typescript of his first draft, Harry Ransom Center, Tennessee Williams collection, 35.1, is dated "October 1958" on the title page.
(7) "Tennessee Laughter," 56; Wenning, "Unbeastly Williams," 96.
(8) "Tennessee Laughter," 56; John Griffin, review, The Theatre, December 1960, in The Critical Response to Tennessee Williams, ed. George W. Crandall (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 189.
(9) The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, 8 vols. (New York: New Directions, 1971-92), 4:174. This standard edition reprints the second issue of the first edition of Period of Adjustment; see Mel Gussow and Kenneth Holditch, "Note on the Texts," in Williams, Plays 1957-1980 (New York: Library of America, 2000), 984-85. Subsequent references are to this edition and will appear intratextually. I have checked all quotations against the first issue (New York, 1960). References to the Dramatists Play Service edition (New York, 1961) appear intratextually, using the siglum DPS. References to other plays appear intratextually and, unless indicated otherwise at first reference, are to The Theatre of Tennessee Williams.
(10) Thomas Faw Driver, review, Christian Century, 28 December 1960, 1536.
(11) See Internet Broadway Database, http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=7037.
(12) For the Esquire edition, see Gussow and Holditch, "Note," 984; for the precedence of the New Directions edition, see Weales, "Period," 162nl. Publication dates of the first and second issues appear on page [iv] of the second issue. Melissa Jean Cooper of Dramatists Play Service provided the date of publication for the DPS edition, the contract for which, she says, was signed 13 January 1961 (e-mail message to author, 17 January 2012). I have verified the status of the DPS edition as the text closest to performance by a collation against quotations from the first reviews. Ms. Cooper reports that her company has "no records of any changes that may or may not have been made to the original production script" and "no records of any changes to the script ever being sent to DPS."
(13) Edwina Dakin Williams, Remember Me to Tom (New York: Putnam, 1963), 245; Williams, interview by Ruas, in Conversations with Tennessee Williams, 285.
(14) Williams to Maria St. Just, 25 December 1960, in Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 169 (interpolation in St. Just). St. Just inserts a note indicating that the letter was "not sent" (168).
(15) See Driver, review, Christian Century; and see reviews by Frank Aston, World-Telegram and The Sun, 11 November 1960, in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 21 (1960), 177; John McCarten, New Yorker, 19 November 1960, 93-94; Robert Brustein, New Republic, 28 November 1960; and Harold Clurman, Nation, 3 December 1960,443-44.
(16) See reviews by John Chapman, Daily News, 11 November 1960, in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 21,176; and Howard Taubman, New York Times, 11 November 1960, in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 21, 178.
(17) See reviews by Aston, 177; McCarten, 93; Griffin, 190; and see John Simon, "Theatre Chronicle," Hudson Review 1 (1961): 83.
(18) McCarten, review, New Yorker, 93.
(19) Clurman, review, Nation, 443.
(20) Simon, "Theatre Chronicle," 84.
(21) John Gassner, "Broadway in Review," Educational Theatre Journal 13 (1961): 52.
(22) Williams is inconclusive on the matter; but Gerald Weales, American Drama Since World War II (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962), 27,109, safely calls George "virginal." Regarding Georges "failure to get the car up the steep drive," Weales, "Period" 158, suggests that "it is probably appropriate that our first sense of George is that he can't get it up."
(23) See also Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), 3:18-19, in which Maggie Pollitt "steps out of her dress, stands in a slip of ivory satin and lace," while Brick remains "without interest."
(24) John McClain, review, Journal American, 11 November 1960, in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 21,177.
(25) In the following discussion, omissions from Esquire are noted parenthetically; other recorded readings are substantively identical in New Directions and Esquire.
(26) Williams, "Foreword to Camino Real" (1953), in New Selected Essays, 70.
(27) William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 1.1.62.
(28) Weales, "Period," 158. Weales references the reprint of the first edition, second issue.
(29) Simon, "Theatre Chronicle," 83.
(30) Driver, review, 1536. See also Arthur Ganz, "The Desperate Morality of the Plays of Tennessee Williams," American Scholar 31 (1962): 282, on Georges "homosexual nature"; and see Signi Falk, Tennessee Williams, 2nd ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1978), 108: "there is an overtone in the relationship between the war buddies that recalls that of Brick Pollitt and his friend Skipper. In such seemingly close-knit compatibility, no place exists for women, as Maggie the Cat discovered."
(31) See also Stacey in A House Not Meant to Stand, ed. Thomas Keith (New York: New Directions, 2008), 63, on Charlies gay brother: "I known a lot of boys like him. I unnerstood and I liked 'em." Stacey tries to "bring" homosexuals "to Jesus" (64).
(32) Williams, Memoirs (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1975), 30, 31. See also Maggie to Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 3:57: "I remember when we double-dated at college, Gladys Fitzgerald and I and you and Skipper, it was more like a date between you and Skipper. Gladys and I were just sort of tagging along as if it was necessary to chaperone you!-to make a good public impression."
(33) "Tennessee Laughter," 56; and see Nancy M. Tischler, Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan (New York: Citadel Press, 1961), 282: "he leapt at his frightened bride like a satyr."
(34) Williams's first known reference to overtly homosexual contact, a 1939 journal entry reproduced in Tennessee Williams Notebooks, ed. Margaret Bradham Thornton (Yale U. Press, 2006), 153, records a "rather horrible night with a picked up acquaintance Doug whose amorous advance made me sick at the stomach." Williams implies his status as a top throughout Memoirs.
(35) Williams's skepticism is perhaps drawn from life: in the late 1950s, his psychoanalyst suggested that he become heterosexual. See, e.g., Williams, interview by C. Robert Jennings (1973), in Conversations with Tennessee Williams, 245.
(36) In Esquire, 261, Isabel meets a sailor outside Ralph's house, where, the sailor observes, Ralph and George "got the TV on full blast" and are "balling it up." The contrast to the interior scenes with Isabel is obvious. The homosocial exclusivity of banter like Ralph and George's registers in A House Not Meant to Stand, 24, when Cornelius McCorkle admonishes his lodge-brother not for calling him a "hound-dawg" but for "callin' me that in public," that is in the presence of his wife.
(37) DPS also omits a later scene (4:192) in which George is a "Texas jack rabbit," Ralph is a "tail- gunner," and the men "catch each other in an affectionate bear hug."
(38) Elarry Ransom Center, Tennessee Williams collection, 35.1, 64; Williams, Memoirs, 31. See also Memoirs, 30, on a youthful encounter: "We were sleeping spoons and he began to press hard against my buttocks and I began to tremble like a leaf in a gale. But that's as far as it went."
(39) Harry Ransom Center, Tennessee Williams collection, 35.1, 64-65.
(40) Harry Ransom Center, Tennessee Williams collection, 34.15, 53-54; the last line is not marked for deletion. See also an undated fragment, 34.11, n.p., that finds Ralph "placing an arm about George's rigid shoulder" and enjoining him to "forget self-interest, SELF-CONCERN IN FAVOR OF ... AN UNDERSTANDING, AFFECTION AN--WELL, TENDERNESS TOWARD A--SCARED COMPANION!"
(41) Michael S. D. Hooper, "Warring Desires: Sex, Marriage, and the Returning Soldier," Tennessee Williams Annual Review 10 (2009): 31.
(42) See, e.g., Charles B. Brooks, "Williams's Comedies," in Tennessee Williams: A Tribute, ed. Jac Thorpe (U. Press of Mississippi), 726, on the McGillicuddys: "Their whole system of values is monetary, their possessiveness has practically ruined their daughter psychologically, and they show little respect for each other."
(43) Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.242.
(44) Clurman, review, Nation, 443.
(45) David Savran, Communists, Cowboys, and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams (U. of Minnesota Press, 1992), 88.
(46) Gerald Weales, The Jumping-Off Place: American Drama in the 1960's (New York: Macmillan, 1969), 4-5, counters critics who "dismissed" Period of Adjustment "as the Broadway marital comedy it pretended to be" by observing that the "curtain scene ... would be the familiar Broadway side-step if it were not that the whole house shakes at this point, settling a little deeper into the cavern."
(47) Annette J. Saddik, introduction to Williams, "The Traveling Companion' and Other Plays, ed. Saddik (New York: New Directions, 2008), xxii.
(48) Williams, Kirche, Kiiche, Kinder, in "Traveling Companion," 145. Son speaks the first line, Daughter the second.
(49) Williams, Memoirs, 40.
(50) For Jo Mielziner's drawing of the scene design for Period of Adjustment, see DPS, 72.
(51) Kathryn Zabelle Derounian, '"The Kingdom of Earth' and Kingdom of Earth (The Seven Descents of Myrtle): Tennessee Williams' Parody," University of Mississippi Studies in English, n.s., 4 (1983): 155, says of Myrtle and Chicken that "by performing fellatio, they parody the regenerative aspect of sexual intercourse."
(52) Myrtle says, "the deepest chord in my nature is the-don't that river sound louder?" The utterance looks back to Myrtle to Lot in act 1, scene 1 (5:135): "you touched the deepest chord in my nature, which is the maternal chord in me."
(53) Williams, Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? in "Traveling Companion," 277.
(54) For Williams and camp, see Annette Saddik, et al., "Williams and the Grotesque," Tennessee Williams Annual Review 8 (2006): 186-89; and James Francis, "Camping Out: Sexuality as Aesthetic Value in Tennessee Williams's 'And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens ..."' Tennessee Williams Annual Review 9 (2007): 131-42.
(55) Frye, Anatomy, 152.
(56) Thomas Keith, "A blouse Not Meant to Stand-Tennessee's Haunted Last Laugh," The Undiscovered Country: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams, ed. Philip C. Kolin (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 212.
(57) Williams, House Not Meant to Stand, 85.
(58) Williams, interviews by Lewis Funke and John E. Booth (1962) and David Frost (1970), Conversations with Tennessee Williams, 104,141-42.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
|Previous Article:||Tom Maguire: "an under-paid agitator" in the late-Victorian socialist press.|
|Next Article:||The Exploitations of Medieval Romance.|