Monday, April 20, 2015

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

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

Afterward, the first-nighters filed off to a party in Williams’s honor that Wood was hosting at the Royalton. Williams was too stunned to socialize. He and Windham disappeared into the balmy night. They walked the city for hours and forgot about the party. “I don’t remember feeling a great sense of triumph,” Williams said. “In fact, I don’t remember it very well at all. It should have been one of the happiest nights of my life . . . . I’d spent so much of my energy on the climb to success that when I’d made it and my play was the hottest ticket in town, I felt almost no satisfaction.” Williams’s word for this moment in his life was “providential”—“suddenly, providentially, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ made it when I was thirty-four.” As if to underscore the inexplicable nature of the play’s good fortune, he kept in his scrapbook a published astrological chart showing “a planetary tie-up” the night of the premiere “that is amazing.

To the young playwright Arthur Miller, The Glass Menagerie augured what he called “a revolution” in New York theater. “In one stroke,” Miller wrote, “’The Glass Menagerie’ lifted lyricism to its highest level in our theatre’s history . . . . In [Williams], American theatre found, perhaps for the first time, an eloquence and amplitude of feeling.” “It seems to me that your glass menagerie began a renaissance of our theatre . . . the climate of creation was invigorated,” his friend Carson McCullers wrote years later, assessing the seismic impact of the play.

It was not only the American theater that was reborn. Edwina Williams, to whom her dutiful son gave half his royalties—The Glass Menagerie would run for 563 performances—was also reborn, liberated by her new wealth to leave her disastrous marriage. “I was happy to have my freedom,” she said. “The walls of the house had resounded with wrath for too many years and now there was peace at long last.” Laurette Taylor was reborn as a legend in her time. “The postman can ring twice,” she said. “From here on I’m just kicking the clouds around.” And overnight, in the public’s mind, Tom Williams was reborn as Tennessee Williams, playwright. The day after the opening, according to the front page of the New York Times, “there was a feeling of release—release from a hard winter and a promise of release, soon, from at least some of the cares of the war.” The day was Easter Sunday, 1945.

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