Well, hello there...
A few days ago in rehearsal, Brian J. Smith (who plays Jim, the Gentleman Caller) and I were talking about Tennessee Williams and how much he did in his life. Reading Tennessee’s notebooks and letters are a monument to seizing the day. Tennessee wrote almost every day for hours, went swimming, spent nights wandering the streets or partying with friends, and rarely stayed in any place for more than a few months. The ironic thing about this extraordinarily colorful life? Tennessee never thought he did anything. He constantly thought that he didn’t deserve his success and lived in fear that one day it would all disappear and he would die destitute. Despite his years of alcoholism and drug addiction, when Williams died, doctors reported that his internal organs were in perfect condition (probably owing to his daily swims) and that he would probably have lived for several more years (longevity ran in his family: his mother, grandfather, sister, and brother all lived well into their eighties and nineties).
Talking with Brian reminded me of the time I spent in the Theatre Collection of Harvard’s Houghton Library. Houghton houses boxes of Tennessee’s personal papers and manuscripts; as part of my pre-production research, I faced the daunting task of sorting through them all. My trepidation turned into excitement when I came upon the cache of Williams’ journals. Reading the journals is an amazing experience – a look into the mind of someone who would become one of America’s greatest playwrights. Another good reason to read the journals? Tennessee Williams was hilarious. Among the many entries alternately lamenting his perceived lack of talent (“Been back on the GC [The Gentleman Caller, an early draft of Menagerie] lately, and it has turned into a comedy bordering on fantasy and is probably an abortion”) and pumping himself up (“I think I must be a great poet. En avant!”) are some of the best bon mots I have ever encountered. Specifically, bon mots about sex. Speaking as part of the generation brainwashed by Sex and the City, Tennessee Williams had game. Which he then described in sometimes inappropriately funny detail. If you read his journals and think, “Wow, Tennessee Williams really liked birds. He is always talking about nightingales,” you are wrong. The nightingale was Tennessee code for sex.
“Tennessee Williams’ Top Five References To Sex”
(all culled from his journals):
5. “Writing really good scenes. Sex ok.”
4. “The things I find thrill in are sex and creation”
3. “Sleep is better really than copulation.”
2. “I’d like to live a simple life – with epic fornications.”
… and the winner
1. “I couched with Eros last night who moaned like a beast and flopped like a drunken boat.”
Plus one lovely iambic pentameter line about winter:
“The ashes falling from my cigarette/ were no less wasted than those winter days.”