Wednesday, April 29, 2015

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

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

On Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972, Small Craft Warnings opened at the Truck and Warehouse Theater, near the Bowery, a venue that Williams thought a “metaphor for posterity,” signaling a change in fortune if not in style. The Easter opening worried Williams, for it might give the critics a stick with which to beat him. “They’ll say the Resurrection didn’t come off,” he joked. If Small Craft Warnings wasn’t exactly a resurrection and wasn’t exactly a hit, it was still a comeback of sort. The reviews were mixed. “The critics in New York are no longer inclined to make allowances for my advanced age nor for the dues I’ve paid,” Williams complained to St. Just after the opening. “They keep saying, ‘This is not up to Williams’ best, such as Streetcar and Cat’—Well, for Chrissake, how could it be? If it were a major play such as ‘Out Cry,’ it would not have opened at the Truck and Warehouse in the Bowery, would it?”

In fact, the reviews of Small Craft Warnings were sufficiently positive to give Williams hope that the narrative about his work might be changing. Show, a posh short-lived theater magazine, ran a long article subtitled “The Revitalization of a Great Dramatist,” and Clive Barnes’s review in the New York Times concluded that Small Craft Warnings “may survive better than some of the much-touted products of his salad years.” In Time, Ted Kalem welcomed the play as “a five-finger exercise from the man who is the greatest living playwright in the Western world.” “Surely you mean ‘playboy of the Western World’—but never mind,” Williams quipped, when thanking Kalem for his “incredibly beautiful notice.”

Small Craft Warnings turned out to be Williams’s most successful new theatrical outing in nearly a decade; it played two hundred performances, in a run of nearly six months. That June, when ticket sales dipped and the actor playing Doc—a doctor who has lost his license to drink but practices clandestinely—left for a four-day film gig just as the play was transferring to the New Theatre uptown, Williams stepped in. “Goddam it, no, I will play it myself!” he told the producers, who took him up on the offer. “A star is born,” Williams wrote to St. Just. “We have played to packed houses. And no cabbages thrown. I guess I have to admit that I am a ham and that I loved it.” Although Williams’s performances gave the show a commercial kiss of life, onstage he was something of a loose cannon, prone to ad lib. “He never shut up,” the actress Peg Murray, a veteran of three of Williams’s late plays, said. The other actors never knew when their cue was coming. “Just watch his lips,” William Hickey, who played Steve, a short-order cook, said. “When they stop moving, you come in.” When nobody was depending on him for a cue, however, as Murray recalled, “he was wonderful in the part.”

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