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TENNESSEE WILLIAMS by Ronald Hayman

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

Everyone Else Is an Audience

By Ronald Hayman

Pub Date: March 26th, 1994
ISBN: 0-300-05414-9
Publisher: Yale Univ.

 The biographer of Nietzsche, Kafka, Brecht, Sartre, Proust and de Sade takes on Tennessee Williams with intelligent, neatly weighed but uninspired results. Hayman mentions that he was commissioned by Yale to write this book, which otherwise might never have been written. Since very little original research has gone into it--it's mostly a too-smooth reshuffling of already familiar stuff--a reader of earlier lives of Williams might wonder why anyone should pursue this one. Still, Hayman's weighing of his subject's life brings a lively, not overly academic sensibility to bear on work a new generation might not be familiar with and offers as well a history of productions of Williams plays that often had his wavering imprimatur. The tack Hayman takes boils down to a portrait of a bedeviled gay artist whose growing dependence on drugs reinforced a neurotic insecurity that could be borne only by the immense daily discipline of writing--and writing no matter what disaster has befallen him. Williams's last 20 years come off as a decline into mental slop, with the playwright doggedly dramatizing his own ``blue devils'' without effect and producing failure upon failure, or parody upon self-parody. Meanwhile, he also falls into outrageous behavior and talks endlessly like a queen bitch who wants only to be stroked, despite whatever idiocies he's mouthing. A thought played on by Elia Kazan when first mounting A Streetcar Named Desire seems pivotal to understanding Williams, who as a younger man often picked up rough trade and was sometimes beaten up, a fear that becomes central to the Blanche-Stanley polarity, with Williams as Blanche and Stanley the rough trade perhaps out to murder him. In the end, Williams lusted for new acclaim by the critics as if for a lost Mardi Gras crown. Spankingly well-produced with superb illustrations.