COSTLY PERFORMANCES: Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage by Bruce Smith
Kirkus Star

COSTLY PERFORMANCES: Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage

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An intense memoir of restricted scope that may live on as the most suggestively accurate picture of Williams ever done. A successful Chicago publicity agent, Smith fell in with Williams in 1979 in Key West, where Williams made his home for 30 years. They became close friends when Williams came to Chicago for the first production of his ill-written, ill-acted last full-length play, Clothes for a Summer Hotel, and remained close for Williams' last three years of life. Williams grew to depend on Smith for utter honesty and even parodied their ties in a later play by drawing Smith as Bruce Lee Jackson, a policeman. In the view of those around Williams and Smith, Smith was Williams' policeman, who did his best to dim the playwright's need for sex, drugs, and alcohol and who also helped arrange Williams' publicity in Chicago and, to a degree, in New York when Clothes moved there. A number of seeming villains arise in this memoir, among the worst being Lady Maria St. Just--who, as it happens, has also just published a memoir of her ties with Williams along with all the correspondence between them (see Williams, below). Paradoxically, St. Just's Williams, who really is Williams as he speaks from his letters over a 30-year period, is less well rendered than Smith's Williams, who is a fictional re-creation, with long swatches of dialogue intact. Smith's is an elegiac Williams, who has already decided to ""check out"" (Williams apparently choked to death on a snap-cap after swallowing all the Seconal capsules in a bottle) and goes through the motions of writing and putting on his last works somewhat as a phantom at his own long funeral. Smith hits off Williams' voice marvelously, aside from a clunky, too formal passage or two, as well as his paranoia, and drinking and drug habits. Daily, Williams would pop his first bottle at dawn, then sit down to write or revise his work in progress under the bloom of red wine. The full disaster of Williams' last productions and final checking-out moves toward the reader like a cemetery-bound streetcar making stops in the rain. Haunting.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1990
Publisher: Paragon