(Gagliano’s article was sent, 11/4.)
John Lahr’s monumental Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh has touched me in ways I can only begin to understand. I’ll be returning to the book often to understand, more fully, its connection with my life.
What I take away on first reading is a better understanding of the sad but glorious genius whose plays informed my life, a more positive appreciation of the genius of Elia Kazan (Tennessee Williams’s director), and a greater sense of Williams’s legendary agent, Audrey Wood, and her place in an American theatre that formed me and is all but gone.
I’ve already returned to Kazan’s memoir, “A Life,” and look forward to reading “Represented by Audrey Wood” (I didn’t know Audrey wrote a memoir — and she wrote it with Max Wilk, whom I met at the O’Neill Theatre Center in 2004 and had already admired for writing one of the seminal books about the American Songbook, “They’re Playing Our Song”). Neither did I know Williams’s letters, short stories or poetry, but thanks to Lahr’s liberal examples —especially the poetry — I’m looking forward to reading them.
Lahr’s biography-through-critiques-of-the-plays approach has drawn me back to the Williams’ play texts. I own the complete set of Williams plays and know, and have seen, many of them — including the original productions of the early plays. But there are many of the later plays I have never seen or read. I’ll get to them all, and, as I read each, I will review Lahr’s comments and critiques to illuminate the texts, and Tennessee's life, more.
This book happily reinforced my belief that, in all of Lahr’s examples from the texts, Williams scored his plays with the best use of “dramatic” punctuation of any playwright I know.
The photos are superb and plentiful and most are new to me! The historical timeline and notes are exemplary.
It’s a very long book, with a big cast of vivid personalities (some, monsters, including Tennessee, at times) and a healthy swath of American theatre history — its golden age, in fact.
If you’re a Tennessee Williams mavin, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh is a must read. A great effort of love and scholarship on Lahr’s part.