Beauty Is the Word is Tennessee Williams' first play. The 12-page one-act was written in 1930 while Williams was a freshman at University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri and submitted to a contest run by the school's Dramatic Arts Club. Beauty was staged in competition and became the first freshman play ever to be selected for citation (it was awarded honorable mention); the college paper noted that it was "a play with an original and constructive idea, but the handling is too didactic and the dialog often too moralistic.". The play tells the story of a South Pacific missionary, Abelard, and his wife, Mabel, and "both endorses the minister's life and corrects his tendency to Victorian prudery."
Why Do You Smoke So Much, Lily? was written in February 1935. In it, Lily, a frustrated chain-smoking young woman, is hounded by her mother. After being discovered in the papers left to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, "Lily" was first produced by the Chattanooga Theatre Centre (Chattanooga, TN) as part of the Fellowship of Southern Writers' Conference on Southern Literature, a biennial event that was hosted by the influential Arts and Education Council of Chattanooga.
Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! was Williams first produced play. He wrote it in 1935 while he was staying in the Midtown, Memphis home of his grandparents. It was first performed July 12, 1935 by the Garden Players community theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Regarding this production, Williams wrote, "The laughter ... enchanted me. Then and there the theatre and I found each other for better and for worse. I know it's the only thing that saved my life."
The Magic Tower was written quickly by Williams in April 1936 in order to meet the deadline for a one-act play contest sponsored by the Webster Groves Theatre Guild in St. Louis, Missouri. Williams won first place and The Magic Tower was performed by the Guild on October 13, 1936 to positive reviews. The play tells the story of a young artist and his ex-actress wife living in a slum that they refer to as their "magic tower," following them as their optimism gradually fades.
Written in 1937 under the title Escape, Summer at the Lake was unproduced until November 11, 2004, when it opened at the New York City Center in a collection of rarely-seen Williams one-acts titled Five by Tenn. The autobiographical play tells the story of Donald Fenway, a sensitive teenager who feels trapped by his self-absorbed Southern mother and his shoe-company executive father, who wants him to abandon his plans for college and find a menial job. The play was interpreted by several critics as "an early snapshot" of the characters and themes that later appeared in Williams' breakthrough 1944 play The Glass Menagerie, which also focused on a combative mother and a dreamy son bent on escape.
The Palooka is a 1937 one act about an old has-been boxer. The characters are The Palooka (Galveston Joe), The Kid and The Trainer. The Kid is nervous about his first fight, and The Palooka relieves the Kid's anxiety by telling about the fictional life he wanted to lead after he retired as Galveston Joe. Its world premiere was presented by the Chattanooga Theatre Centre (Chattanooga, TN) as part of the Fellowship of Southern Writers' Southern Writers Conference in 2000, and was later performed on October 2, 2003, by the Hartford Stage Company in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Fat Man's Wife was written by Williams in 1938 but remained unproduced until November 11, 2004, when it opened at the New York City Center in a collection of rarely-seen Williams one-acts titled Five by Tenn. The play tells the story of Vera Cartwright, a sophisticated Manhattan society lady who is forced to choose between her boorish husband, a theatrical producer, and a young playwright who has become her admirer. The Fat Man's Wife received the sharpest criticism of any of the five exhumed plays; in The New Yorker, John Lahr called it a "heterosexual fantasy awash with false emotion and bad writing," and The New York Times noted that "Williams is obviously attempting to write in a style entirely alien to him, trying on a faux-urbane manner that fits him like a rented tuxedo in the wrong size."
Adam and Eve on a Ferry was written in 1939. It contains three characters: D.H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, and a female visitor named Ariadne. Ariadne comes seeking D.H. Lawrence because she had a run-in on a boat with a man, and wants romance and sex advice from Lawrence. The setting is described as “The sun porch of a villa in the Alps Maritimes.” The only things mentioned on the stage are numerous potted plants, two wicker chairs, and “a banner bearing the woven figure of a phoenix in a nest of flames.” Ariadne is described as plain and “spinsterish looking,” and she wears a hat, while Lawrence sports a “gold satin dressing robe with a lavender shawl."
The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer is a short autobiographical play that was written in 1941. The Parade is set on the wharfs of Provincetown, Massachusetts, and tells the story of a young playwright named Don dealing with his unrequited homosexual love for another man. The situations and characters in the play were "clearly drawn from a very autobiographical foundation," with Don's dilemma reflecting a relationship Williams had in Provincetown with "his actual lover for [one] summer, Kip Kiernan." The Parade was written after a fight with Kiernan, and Williams reflected in 1962 that "[the version of Kip in that play] is very, in fact completely different from Kip as he was. When someone hurts us deeply, we no longer see them at all clearly. Not until time has put them back in focus." That year, Williams retitled and expanded The Parade into a full-length play that was produced in 1981 as Something Cloudy, Something Clear. The Parade was not performed until 2006, when it opened on October 1 in Provincetown as part of the First Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival by Shakespeare on the Cape. Original cast members: Ben Griessmeyer, Vanessa Caye, Elliot Eustis, Megan Bartle, David Landon. Co-Directed by Jef Hall-Flavin and Eric Powell Holm.
The Long Goodbye is a 1940 one act that deals with the male main character's memories of his life from when his family consisted of four people through his father leaving the family, his mother's death, and his sister's fall from grace. The scheme of the play consists of the main character moving out of the apartment he grew up in while experiencing extreme flashbacks of both terrible and glorious moments in his past.
Auto Da Fé was written in 1941.
The Lady of Larkspur Lotion was written in 1941. It depicts the conflict between a dreamy, delusional heroine (à la Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire) and her brusque, practical landlady, who wants to kick her out of her apartment.
At Liberty was written in 1941 and tells the story of a once-successful actress who retreats to her childhood home in Mississippi, with fantasies of resuscitating her career.
In January 1941, Williams completed a one act play centering around "a deranged spinster living in poverty and with her memories of a former lover." Variously titled Port Mad and The Leafless Block, he revised the play in 1944 and renamed it Portrait of a Madonna. After seeing Jessica Tandy's performance in a 1947 West Coast production of Madonna, Williams decided to cast her in the original production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He later wrote, "It was instantly apparent to me that Jessica was Blanche [DuBois]."
Moony's Kid Don't Cry originated as an eight-page melodrama titled Hot Milk at Three in the Morning, which Williams wrote in 1930 at the University of Missouri. Hot Milk was produced at MU in 1932, and was revised and titled Moony's Kid Don't Cry in 1941, when it was published in Margaret Mayorga's Best One Act Plays of 1940. It was the first of Williams' plays to be published. In both versions of the play, a poor young married couple get into an argument over their child and, eventually, their relationship.
The Strangest Kind of Romance was written in 1942.
The Purification is the only verse play Tennessee Williams wrote; Williams recalled that it was written in the summer of 1940, although his biographer Lyle Leverich thought it more likely written in spring 1942. It was published in 1944 in the anthology New Directions 1944 under the title Dos Ranchos, or the Purification (in later publications, this was shortened to The Purification). Set on a ranch in the mid-19th century, the play deals with an incestuous brother/sister relationship and a murder trail. The Purification had its New York debut off-Broadway at the Theatre de Lys on December 8, 1959.
Ten Blocks on the Camino Real is a one-act play that was written in early 1946 and published in Williams' 1948 play collection American Blues; in 1952, the playwright expanded it into a full-length play, Camino Real. Williams directs the reader to use the Anglicized pronunciation "Cá-mino Réal"
27 Wagons Full of Cotton is a 1946 one-act that Williams referred to as "a Mississippi Delta comedy." In it, Jake, a middle-aged, shady cotton gin owner burns down the mill of Silva Vicarro, a rival in the cotton business. His rival, who knows what happened but cannot prove it, seeks revenge by seducing Jake's young, frail, delicate wife, Flora. Elia Kazan's controversial 1956 movie Baby Doll was based on this play.
The Last of My Solid Gold Watches was written in 1946, and centers around a Mississippi shoe salesman named Charlie Colton "whose time has passed and who pathetically echoes himself"; Williams is thought to have drawn on aspects of his father, a traveling salesman, in his portrait of Colton.
Hello from Bertha is a 1946 one act, about the dramatic life and death of a prostitute in a low-class bordello. It is very strong and very poetic as Bertha imagines events and allusions to her last moments. There are three characters in the play: Lena, a young prostitute who listens to Bertha, and Goldie the old lady of the house who wants to evict Bertha.
Written in 1946, Lord Byron's Love Letter takes place in New Orleans in the late 19th century during Mardi Gras. A Spinster and an Old Woman advertise that they have one of Lord Byron's love letters (written to her grandmother). A Matron stops by to look at it and drags her partially inebriated Husband along. As the spinster reads from her grandmother's diary, it becomes apparent that the grandmother and the old woman are one and the same. According to the two women, the grandmother met Lord Byron in Greece, shortly before his death, and they had a summer filled with romance. After he died, the grandmother retired from the world and remained in complete seclusion as an honor to his memory (this does not prevent her from commenting on the spinster's every action). The Matron and her Husband aren't permitted to read the letter, only to look at it from a distance.
I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix presents a fictionalized version of the death of English writer D. H. Lawrence on the French Riveria; Lawrence was one of Williams' chief literary influences. The play was completed in 1941, but was not published until 1951, when New Directions Publishers released it in a limited edition.
Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen was written in 1953 as part of a series of one-acts Williams wrote in particular for community theatre. Unlike the large scenic demands of his larger works (i.e. A Streetcar Named Desire) Talk Like The Rain... features a small-scale, bare-room situation. It involves an unnamed Man and Woman who are bound together in an endless cycle by their hopeless poverty. Major William's themes are explored in the Man's alcoholism and the Woman's desperation. Although not specified, the one-act can be worked in a more surrealist fashion. Monologues for both sexes, with the Woman's being substantially longer, spanning several pages.
The Dark Room was written in c. 1939, and published in 1958.
The Case of the Crushed Petunias was written in 1941 and is the story of Dorothy Simple, a woman trapped in her job at a prim and proper shop in Massachusetts. Her complacent existence is interrupted by a visit from a tall man who works for LIFE Inc. who, she discovers, trampled her petunias the night before. With offers of poetry and packets of seeds, he helps her break free from her dreary life.
A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot was written in 1958.
Suddenly, Last Summer was written in 1958, and debuted as part of a double bill of one-act plays written by Williams titled Garden District. (The other one-act play was Something Unspoken.) Garden District premiered Off-Broadway at the York Playhouse on January 7, 1958.
Something Unspoken was written in 1958, and debuted as part of a double bill of one-act plays written by Williams titled Garden District. (The other one-act was Suddenly, Last Summer.) Garden District premiered Off-Broadway at the York Playhouse on January 7, 1958. The title Garden District is a misnomer, because while Suddenly, Last Summer takes place in the Garden District of New Orleans, Something Unspoken takes place in Meridian, Louisiana.
And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens . . . (A Play in Two Scenes) was initially written in 1957 and worked on as late as 1962. It was published in 2005 by New Directions in Mister Paradise and Other One-Act Plays (NDP1007). A slightly different version was first published in Political Stages: Plays That Shaped a Century (Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2002). The play concerns the private life of "Candy" Delaney, a successful interior decorator and landlord who is also a transvestite. It was first performed by the Shakespeare Theatre Company on April 22, 2004 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The Mutilated was written in 1966, and debuted as part of a double-bill of one act plays written by Williams titled Slapstick Tragedy (the other one act was The Gnädiges Fräulein.) Slapstick Tragedy premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on February 22, 1966.
The Gnädiges Fräulein was written in 1966, and debuted as part of a double-bill of one act plays written by Williams titled Slapstick Tragedy (the other one act was The Mutilated.) Slapstick Tragedy premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on February 22, 1966.
I Can't Imagine Tomorrow was a two-character play written for television, broadcast with Talk To Me Like The Rain And Let Me Listen under the collective title "Dragon Country" on WNET-TV in 1970. Kim Stanley plays a lonely but spirited spinster being courted by a pathologically shy teacher, played by William Redfield. "Dragon Country" is available on DVD as part of the Broadway Theatre Archive.
Written in 1970, The Frosted Glass Coffin follows a group of retirees living at a hotel in Miami, Florida. In his memoirs, Williams wrote that he believed the "rather depressing" work to be "one of [his] best short plays."
The Demolition Downtown was written in 1970.
Kirche, Küche und Kinder was written in 1979. The title translates as "Church, Kitchen and Children" and is a reference to a well-known German slogan. It was first performed by The Jean Cocteau Repertory Company as a work-in-progress in September, 1979 at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre in New York City where it ran in repertory until January, 1980. The play is subtitled (An Outrage for the Stage). It was published in 2008 by New Directions in The Traveling Companion & Other Plays (NDP1106).
Lifeboat Drill was written in 1979.
The Chalky White Substance was written in 1980. It was originally published in Issue 66 of Antaeus (magazine) in 1991. It was first performed by the Running Sun Theater Company on May 3, 1996 at the Center Stage in New York City on a double-bill with The Traveling Companion, collectively entitled Williams' Guignol. The play is dedicated to author James Purdy.
This Is Peaceable Kingdom or Good Luck God was written in 1980.
Steps Must be Gentle was written in 1980.
The One Exception was written in 1983. It was originally published in The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, Volume 3, in 2000. It was first performed on October 2, 2003 by the Hartford Stage Company of Hartford, Connecticut.
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