Dramaturg, academic and journalist Paller situates Tennessee Williams within the New York gay theater of the mid-40s through 70s in a thoughtful, articulate defense of the playwright’s work.
By no means is Paller’s study an adequate biography of Williams: He quotes freely from Lyle Leverich’s Tom (1995) for a comprehensive look at the life. Instead, Paller concentrates on how the playwright’s work, especially its treatment of homosexuality (and evasion thereof), formed and fit into New York theater—excluding A Streetcar Named Desire, by the way, curiously ignored by Paller for “space limitation,” and also because, some may argue, “there are no gay characters in it, anyway.” Paller accepts the evidence of Williams’s “self-loathing” only in terms of the savage condemnation of homosexuality that permeated the society—Southern, WWII—he grew up in. In most of Williams’s best work, from Lord Byron’s Love Letter to The Night of the Iguana (1961), he would wrestle with “his urge to conceal with the equally strong need to reveal.” Paller tracks Williams’s work on Broadway, where he showcased almost exclusively, starting from the 1945 production of The Glass Menagerie. He examines each play with a probing analysis of plot, character and author’s intention. While mining Williams’s internal acceptance of his homosexuality (allowing, however, few clues from his actual life), Paller delves most effectively into the forms of institutionalized homophobia generated at the time of the Cold War, as in the Army’s justification for the rejection of homosexuals; the backlash to the Kinsey Report of 1948; the de facto criminalization of homosexuality, and the classification of homosexuality by the increasingly influential psychoanalytic establishment as a sickness. Moreover, Paller demonstrates a goodly knowledge of the entire context of New York theater. Yet his work will suffice only for readers already well familiar with Williams’s bittersweet trajectory as “founding father of the uncloseted gay world.”
A well-documented, important study of one facet of a complex artist.