He gave himself the name ‘Tennessee’; a creative and public relations masterstroke for a still unknown 28 year-old writer. Born Thomas Lanier Williams in New Orleans in 1911, he died in New York in 1983 having become one of the most famous and successful playwrights of the second half of the 20th century. At his death, his greatest successes were long behind him.
A marvelous roll call starts with The Glass Menagerie (1944), Pulitzer Prize winner A Streetcar Named Desire (‘47), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (‘55) and a hit in every intervening year until Suddenly, Last Summer in January 1958, a substantial one-act play, originally part of a double bill. The successes didn’t come so freely after that; there were financially rewarding film adaptations in the following period during which Williams maintained his prolific output but box office and critical approval eluded him.
Last Summer went quickly onto the screen in 1959 in an adaptation by Gore Vidal and Williams starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn. Sydney Theatre Company are mounting a production at the Sydney Opera House (Feb 13- Mar 21) with Robyn Nevin as the formidable and ultimately alarming Mrs Venable, Eryn Jean Norvill playing the protagonist Catherine and Mark Leonard Winter as the young neurosurgeon.
Described as ‘stark and poetic’ there’s not a lot of good behavior in this play but its a great vehicle for actors.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free