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Tennessee Williams’s Creative Frisson, Censorship, and the Queering of Theatre

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2021


The world around Tennessee Williams in the 1960s, 1970s, and into the 1980s was changing at an astonishing pace, the cultural revolution of the period rendering most of his themes of sexual closeting and repression almost inconsequential. At least the entrenched cultural taboos against which he wrote seem to have disappeared by the mid-1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, Broadway productions of his work grew infrequent, while those mounted tended to have short runs. He told interviewers from Theatre Arts magazine: ‘I think my kind of literary or pseudo-literary style of writing for the theatre is on its way out.’ European productions of his work, on the other hand, seemed regenerative: Howard Davies’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1989), in which the director used Williams’s original third act and not the version rewritten by Elia Kazan for the New York premiere; Peter Hall’s revival of Orpheus Descending (1989–91); Benedict Andrews’s A Streetcar Named Desire (2014), followed by his 2017 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – a revival deemed ‘so courageous’; and in Italy, Elio De Capitani’s productions of Un tram che si chiama desiderio (1995) and Improvvisamente, l’estate scorsa (2011), both in fresh, new, up-to-date translations by Masolino D’Amico – all these have maintained an edge to Williams’s theatre lost in so many American productions. All seem to suggest the continued vitality of Williams’s work in Europe by directors willing to probe and rediscover Williams’s depths, who consider him ‘a playwright worthy of further artistic investigation’, as European audiences, correspondingly, seem less inclined to dismiss him as an artist whom history has overtaken. S. E. Gontarski is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. His critical, bilingual edition of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire was published as Un tram che si chiama desiderio / A Streetcar Named Desire (Pisa: Editioni ETS, 2012). His Włodzimierz Staniewski and the Phenomenon of ‘Gardzienice’, co-edited with Tomasz Wiśniewski and Katarzyna Kręglewska, is forthcoming (Routledge).

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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