Sunday, April 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt two)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

The thunderous applause of The Glass Menagerie’s Broadway first-nighters, which greeted Laurette Taylor on her first entrance, sent Taylor so far off course that she jumped into the second act; it also gave Dowling, now onstage as her son, Tom, time to guide her back on track. “I said, ‘Ma, c’mon now,’” Dowling recalled. “She came back like a little terrier.” A bucket had been placed in the wings for Taylor. “The few minutes she had between scenes, she was leaning over and retching horribly,” Tony Ross recalled. “She played almost through a fog,” Dowling said. When they weren’t on stage, the cast, at once amazed at Taylor’s performance and aghast at her offstage vomiting, clustered in the wings to watch her. “There was nothing left inside of her, poor thing, but on stage—good God!” Ross recalled. Even Williams from his sixth-row seat soon realized that he was present at a special occasion. He was struck by Taylor’s “supernatural quality on stage.” “I had never seen a performance like it in my whole life. It was something like out of another world,” he said. Later on, he would recollect, “Laurette’s basic tragedy was not in herself but in the shabby microcosm of the commercial theatre. It had nothing to offer her that corresponded to what she had to give. Her talent was like a chandelier, all glittering crystal and gold, that was hung incongruously in a kitchen.” But now, miraculously, even for the critics in the audience, something rarely, if ever, experienced was happening before their eyes: illumination and revelation coalesced in Taylor as Amanda worried about her children and invoked her long-lost life of youth and hope. “There is an inexplicable rightness, moment by moment, phrase by phrase, endlessly varied in the transitions,” Stark Young would later write in the New Republic. “Technique, which is always composed of skill and instinct working together, is in this case, so overlaid with warmth, tenderness, and wit, that any analysis is completely baffled. Only a trained theater eye and ear can see what is happening, and then only at times.” At intermission, Wood had to be disabused of her high anxiety. “Stop all this hand clasping and stop digging your elbow into my side,” Robert Edmond Jones told her. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about—any longer.”

The Glass Menagerie began with Amanda calling Tom to the dinner table. “We can’t say grace until you come back to the table,” she said to her dreamy son. As they intuited from Taylor’s weird radiance, Williams and the enthralled audience were in the presence of it. Taylor seemed to inhabit and to transform into light the punishing suffocation and loss of his “haunted household.”

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