Conversations With Tennessee Williams by Albert J. Devlin

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I just finished Conversations With Tennessee Williams by Albert J. Devlin this morning. Published by the University Press of Mississippi it a good number of interviews that Williams gave during his life. Starting with an interview given in 1940 when his Battle of Angels was first produced at the Theatre Guild in New York City up to 1981 in which the last interview is a very thorough overview of his thoughts on a good number of people and things that he dealt with during his life.

It was interesting reading all the interviews and seeing how his views changed over time with some things, the number of contradictions about him, and it is just a very good way to find out more about him that you wouldn’t get just from a biography or critique. You learn more about his writing processes, how he spends his time, he was very consumed by his writing, and there is an interview for almost every couple of years so you see the progression of his life in that way. It’s also funny seeing how some things that he dealt with, how with time and hindsight, he opens up about them more. He talks about his failures, the critics that seemed to have caused him too much stress, and in his later years he is a lot more comfortable talking about his sexuality and with just not caring about being as open as he feels about things. You get to see just how pompous he could be at times, how drunk, and he is pretty open with all the troubles that he had gone through.

The most interesting thing was reading about his family. With how his mother was, how conservative and narrow-minded she was in a lot of ways, you start to wonder if his sister really was as mentally disturbed as it’s been made out to be or if it’s just because her mother was so off. I got the impression that his sister was more of a feminist, more opposed to conventions, than people maybe realize but with a mother like her’s, she is just institutionalized, given a frontal lobotomy, and treated like an invalid for the majority of her life. And then there is Tennessee’s brother Dakin who is very conservative as well and during one of Tennessee’s bad periods, his brother pushes him into Catholicism. He definitely had a family with a lot of hangups and a good thing Tennessee got out before he probably would have been institutionalized as well or just driven to go crazy eventually.

There is also an interview given early in Williams’ career in which he talks to William Inge for the St. Louis Star-Times before Inge’s own career as a playwright took off. There is another interview in which Williams and William Burroughs talk together. Williams only seems interested in talking about drugs and Burroughs seems so beyond it by that point for the most part.

So many things are touched on in this collection, Williams views on people such as Brando, Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, some of his favorite writers, other playwrights such as Albee and Pinter, his friendship and work with Elia Kazan, their falling out, his falling out with his longtime agent Audrey Wood, and the biggest would be how writing seemed to consume most of his life, how he couldn’t go without it.

It’s definitely worth getting a copy of this book, even if you are not a huge fan of his. It’s interesting regardless.

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman

I recently read the Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. I read the memoir Scoundrel Time by Hellman last winter and it was really good. It was interesting reading about her experiences with the silly black list b.s. of the 50’s in that book. I wasn’t that familiar with Hellman before, seeing their name around but not reading anything by them up to that point. I found a copy of this play at one of my favorite used bookstores and enjoyed the play a lot. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It deals with a family who are pretty well off but they are in the process of making an even better deal with their cotton business. They have their hand in a lot of businesses in their community and are all about just being greedy about money for the most part. Most of the family, the one’s who are wanting to make the deal are shady, manipulative, not to be trusted and everyone in the family is kind of tight-knit in terms of how they work with each other or see each other pretty often even though they know they can’t trust one another really. I’m surprised none of them had ended up bat-shit crazy with how some of the characters seem just really difficult to deal with.

The story focuses on how one of the older members of the family is dealing with bad health and how the family needs them the most to contribute money to the deal they are trying to work out with an outside investor. Most members of the family are very racist and sexist, mistreating their workers and one of the wive’s in the play. The story is still relevant today I think and reminds me a similar situation to a degree with the fracking industry booming around here. The older member of the family Horace, isn’t wanting to be part of the deal because he sees it as just ruining the community even more, mistreating most of the people that would work there and the family hasn’t really been much of a big contributor to the community for years to begin with from his point of view. But Horace has more awareness of it now and would rather spend his time doing more good if he can. The end of the play is maybe kind of a downer but it is surprising and the story is well written. You don’t know how it’s going to end or what direction it’s going in which I liked, the end especially.

I still have yet to read the Children’s Hour by Hellman.

The Theatah: An Academic’s Love Affair with the Wicked Stage by Jack Brooking

The Theatah: An Academic’s Love Affair with the Wicked Stage by Jack Brooking (Beach) and published by AuthorHouse.

I received a copy of this book from a technical director that I worked with this past summer who randomly came across it in New Orleans. The writer was a director for a number of years and eventually retired for some part of his life in New Orleans. This was a very good read and don’t let the title fool you, it’s not some boring academic or some book written in a very dry kind of way. It’s written more in the style of a memoir or diary entries. I really enjoyed reading a book by a director from the perspective of someone who had done a lot of traveling, working in various theatres and places, before spending most of their time as a director at a couple of colleges, while still traveling to Europe and South America, among other spots. There is a good amount discussing the period when they were younger and spent their time acting and writing before going into directing. Their college years at the University of Iowa and it’s theatre department at the time, four summer stocks in various places like Pittsburgh and Red Bank, New Jersey in the late 40’s and early 50’s, and graduate school in Cleveland. It was funny coming across another person who had been to Cleveland and hated it as well. It really is an awful place, don’t go there.
There is a lot included in this book of 551 pages and I like the way they went about just filling it with so much information. This is a good book for anyone in theatre or even if you are not that familiar with theatre, you should find it interesting as well. There is a lot of insight into a lot of what goes on as a director although it is not a book just about the director’s process. There are also things included such as a chapter on their own view of what an actor’s toolbox would consist of, details of physical and vocal warmups, approaches to character analysis, and developing a character. The bulk of the book and which I really enjoyed the most consisted of all the plays they directed and what they remember from each experience. Working on plays by people such as Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Albee, and Inge and how they influenced their work. Discussing some of the issues that had come up during the productions, either with actors, the community, or other technical aspects. I loved reading about coming across old notebooks, scripts with tons of old scribblings, and other things that reminded them of something that was almost forgotten. I hope that when I am older that I will have a lot to look through and remember from all the plays that I have done. I also like a director who isn’t afraid to admit their mistakes and discusses some made along the way and how they dealt with them. They also discuss the types of theatres they worked in and their particular challenges, theatres visited around the world, as well as other directors and actors they met and how they go about things.

There are seven monologues and a one act play included as well at the end. I didn’t find the monologues that interesting. The play called Crossroads, was better. It deals with a writer who is about to start writing the best story ever, their magnum opus or at least in their mind. A kind of story that most
writers I think, always have in the back of their mind but usually don’t ever get to actually writing. The characters in the play that make up most of the situation are the writer’s way of thinking or aspects of it, in person-form and deals with them conflicting and arguing with themselves to a degree. I won’t ruin the end but it is worth reading if you are into plays who’s subject matter deals writing and the struggles with that.

This is a book that I will probably read again from time to time because I really enjoyed reading about them looking back on the plays they did.