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Williams,Tennessee - Plays 1937–1955


Tennessee Williams

Plays 1937–1955

The Glass Menagerie • A Streetcar Named Desire • Summer and Smoke • The Rose Tattoo • Camino Real • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof • 14 other plays

 
"The Library of America has published Tennessee Williams's essential 'Plays'—33 of them—in two volumes totaling about 2,000 pages. Not every play is included here, but these two volumes constitute all that matter, the works of a master of his craft, with all the author's introductions, notes, and pertinent essays."
— The Los Angeles Times Book Review
 
Overview  |  Note on the Texts  |  Reviews  |  Table of Contents
 

This volume contains 19 plays written by Tennessee Williams between 1937 and 1955. The texts printed here are taken from the first editions of the plays in book form, with the exception of Battle of Angels, where the text is taken from its first periodical printing.

Because Williams habitually revised his works, most of his plays exist in multiple versions. Williams revised many of them after initial book publication for editions published by Dramatists Play Service (intended for use by actors and directors), for subsequent American and English book editions, and for the collected edition The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, published by New Directions. Williams also rewrote two of the plays included in the present volume, Battle of Angels and Summer and Smoke and republished them as Orpheus Descending and The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, respectively.

The acting editions of the plays are meant chiefly to aid in staging; a statement by the publisher in the Dramatists Play Service version of The Glass Menagerie notes that it is "intended primarily for producing groups," and stage directions "have been drastically changed in order to guide the director and the actor." The acting editions also omit prefaces and commentary that are part of the texts of the book editions.

Williams revised several of his plays relatively soon after their first book publication. The second American edition of A Streetcar Named Desire, published in 1950, is a substantial revision of the 1947 first edition. The first English editions of The Glass Menagerie and Summer and Smoke, published within three years of their first American editions, are also revised versions of the American editions of these plays. Williams' changes, however, are not always retained in subsequent editions of the plays, which sometimes revert to the first editions. In certain instances, Williams' revisions cause inconsistencies within a play, and occasionally he deleted or altered potentially objectionable material.

In 1971, New Directions published the first three volumes of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams, a collected edition of Williams' plays. Three additional volumes of this eight-volume series were published during Williams' lifetime and incorporated substantial changes in several plays. For example, the version of Battle of Angels printed in The Theatre of Tennessee Williams incorporates scenes from Williams' 1957 play Orpheus Descending, and the concluding act of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof combines passages from the two versions of the final act that were printed in the 1955 edition.

The texts of the first book editions have been chosen for inclusion here because they are the versions of the plays Williams published for general readers immediately following the plays' composition.

Williams completed "April Is the Cruelest Month," an early draft of the play that became Spring Storm, in the spring of 1937, while he was enrolled in the drama school at the State University of Iowa. Hoping to get the play staged, he gave a copy of it to Willard Holland, the director of the Mummers, the St. Louis company that had produced Williams' play Candles to the Sun in March 1937. He continued to work on the play during the 1937-38 academic year at Iowa, and he read from it to Elsworth Conkle's class in April 1938 and to E. C. Mabie's class in August of the same year. Both Conkle and Mabie responded negatively to the play. Although the Mummers announced a production in May 1938, the play was never staged. Later that year, Williams submitted his typescript to a contest sponsored by the Group Theatre in New York, which rejected it. The same typescript was submitted to MGM in 1943 for possible adaptation as a film script. The play, neither performed nor published during Williams' lifetime, was first published by New Directions in 1999 in an edition, prepared by Dan Isaac, based on the typescript sent to the Group Theatre, now at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Isaac's edition also incorporates a scene and several speeches from earlier drafts of Spring Storm and emends the text in several places where the play's internal chronology is inconsistent; these alterations are listed in the notes to the present volume. The 1999 New Directions edition of Spring Storm is the text printed here.

Williams began writing Not About Nightingales in September 1938, after reading a newspaper story about inmates suffocated in a steam room in a Pennsylvania prison. He worked steadily on the play during the fall of 1938, completing three drafts by the end of the year, and sent a typescript of the finished play in February 1939 to the Group Theatre, which rejected it. The play was neither staged nor published during Williams' lifetime. The typescript sent to the Group Theatre is in the collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Not About Nightingales was first published by New Directions in 1998 in an edition prepared by Allean Hale, based on the typescript sent to the Group Theatre but with two scenes inserted from an earlier draft of the play entitled Hell, An Expressionistic Drama. This volume prints the text of the Group Theatre typescript as it is presented in the 1998 New Directions edition; the two scenes taken from Hell, An Expressionistic Drama appear in the notes to this volume.

Shortly after arriving in New York City in September 1939, Williams completed the first draft of the play that would become Battle of Angels. On November 31 he sent a revised draft to his agent, Audrey Wood, who submitted the play to Harold Clurman of the Group Theatre. After it became clear that the Group Theatre would not stage it, Wood sent a newly revised version of the play to the producer Guthrie McClintic, who turned it down, and to the Theatre Guild in New York, which optioned it. Battle of Angels began its pre-Broadway trial run in Boston on December 30, 1940, and closed two weeks later. Lawrence Langner, its producer, told Williams that Battle of Angels would have to be revised before the Theatre Guild would stage it in New York; after receiving a new version from Williams in May, the Guild decided not to produce the play. Williams continued to work on Battle of Angels in the years that followed.

Battle of Angels was published in 1945 in the first two (and only) issues of Pharos, a magazine distributed by New Directions, Williams' publisher. Williams eventually rewrote Battle of Angels and published it as a new play, Orpheus Descending, in 1957. The first edition of Orpheus Descending included a version of Battle of Angels that does not contain "The History of a Play (with Parentheses)" but is otherwise not significantly different from the Pharos version. The version of Battle of Angels included in Volume 1 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams combines passages from Battle of Angels and Orpheus Descending. The text printed here is taken from Pharos 1-2, Spring 1945.

In July 1939 Williams wrote to Audrey Wood that he wanted to write a play based on the life of D. H. Lawrence, and he discussed the idea with Frieda Lawrence in August 1939. He completed I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phıınix in 1941, but it was not published until New Directions brought out the play in a limited edition in 1951. The acting edition published by Dramatists Play Service in 1953 contains an altered ending, as well as other changes. These revisions were retained when the play was collected in Dragon Country: A Book of Plays (New York: New Directions, 1970). The text printed here is taken from the 1951 New Directions edition.

The seven one-act plays in this volume that were published in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays in 1946 were written between 1939 and 1945. Four of these plays had previously appeared in anthologies: "This Property Is Condemned," as part of "Landscape with Figures (Two Mississippi Plays)" in American Scenes, edited by William Kozlenko (New York: John Day, 1941); "The Lady of Larkspur Lotion" in The Best One-Act Plays of 1941, edited by Margaret Mayorga (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1942); "The Last of My Solid Gold Watches" in The Best One-Act Plays of 1942, edited by Margaret Mayorga (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1943); "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" in The Best One-Act Plays of 1944, edited by Margaret Mayorga (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1945). 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays was published by New Directions on January 14, 1946. Material from "27 Wagons Full of Cotton," was used by Williams in his screenplay Baby Doll, published by New Directions in 1956, which in turn was the basis for his 1978 play Tiger Tail. Williams did not revise any of the six other plays for publication after the 1946 New Directions 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays. An English edition of the book was published by John Lehmann in 1947. These plays were reprinted in Volume 6 of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. The texts of "27 Wagons Full of Cotton," "The Lady of Larkspur Lotion," "The Last of My Solid Gold Watches," "Portrait of a Madonna," "Auto-da-Fıı," "Lord Byron's Love Letter," and "This Property Is Condemned" printed here are taken from the 1946 New Directions edition.

Williams wrote several short stories in the late 1930's and early 1940's that are related to The Glass Menagerie, including "If You Breathe, It Breaks," "Daughter of Revolution," and "Portrait of a Girl in Glass," which was completed in 1943 and collected in One Arm (New York: New Directions, 1948). In July 1943 Williams sent Audrey Wood a scenario for a film based on "Portrait of a Girl in Glass," hoping that MGM would be interested in the project. After the scenario was rejected, Williams resumed work on a stage adaptation of the story, which used the working title "The Gentleman Caller." Williams completed a draft of "The Gentleman Caller" while living in Provincetown, Massachusetts, during the summer of 1944. In October, producer Eddie Dowling agreed to stage the play, now titled The Glass Menagerie. Williams continued to revise the play while it was in rehearsal. The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago on December 26, 1944, and opened in New York on March 31, 1945. The book version of the play was published by Random House on July 31, 1945.

Both the acting edition (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1948) and the English edition of The Glass Menagerie (London: John Lehmann, 1948) differ from the Random House edition, and there is also variation between the Dramatists Play Service edition and the Lehmann edition. Many of the speeches, particularly those of Amanda Wingfield, are revised and often expanded in the Lehmann and Dramatists Play Service editions. The Lehmann edition also includes a preface, "The Catastrophe of Success," which appears in the notes of the present volume. The version of The Glass Menagerie collected in Volume 1 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams also includes this preface but otherwise follows the text of the first American edition. The text printed here is taken from the 1945 Random House edition.

In early 1945, while in Chicago for the first run of The Glass Menagerie, Williams began writing a play titled first "The Moth," then "Blanche's Chair in the Moon." He returned to the play while in Mexico during the summer of 1945 but then set it aside until the fall of 1946. He worked steadily on the play, using the working title "The Poker Night," during the fall and following winter, and he sent a draft to Audrey Wood in March 1947 for submission to producers. Irene Selznick agreed in early May to stage a production, with Elia Kazan as director. Williams then changed the title to A Streetcar Named Desire but did not make revisions during the rehearsals before its New York premiere on December 3, 1947. A Streetcar Named Desire was published by New Directions on December 22, 1947; an English edition, published by John Lehmann in 1949, did not include any revisions by Williams.

A second American edition, published by New Directions in 1950, incorporates extensive changes made by Williams, including numerous cuts and alterations of dialogue and stage directions. The Dramatists Play Service edition, published in 1953, generally follows the 1950 edition for speeches and dialogue, though the stage directions are often different. The version that appears in Volume 1 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams follows the 1950 New Directions text. The text printed here is taken from the 1947 New Directions edition of A Streetcar Named Desire.

In the fall of 1945, Williams began writing "Chart of Anatomy," a play that grew out of two of his stories, "Oriflamme" and the not yet completed "The Yellow Bird." After writing a few pages, he set aside "Chart of Anatomy" until the following summer, when he worked on the play fairly continuously. In October 1946 he submitted a draft to Audrey Wood, who sent the script to potential producers. Margo Jones agreed in March 1947 to stage the play, first in Dallas and then in New York. Williams continued to revise the play, now titled Summer and Smoke, while living in Provincetown during the summer of 1947. He did not go to Dallas while the play was in rehearsal or in production. In preparation for the New York production, Jones traveled to Europe in the spring of 1948 to meet with Williams and to discuss his most recent version of the play. Williams made further revisions while Jones' production was in rehearsal in New York. Summer and Smoke opened on October 6, 1948. The play was published by New Directions on November 17, 1948.

Williams revised Summer and Smoke for the 1950 Dramatists Play Service edition of the play, omitting the Prologue, adding a new scene between Scenes 1 and 2, and changing stage directions. The English edition of Summer and Smoke was published by John Lehmann in 1952; although this edition does not incorporate many of the changes Williams made for the Dramatists Play Service edition, it is different from the 1948 New Directions edition and contains revisions not included in the Dramatists Play Service edition. Summer and Smoke was rewritten and published in 1965 as The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. Volume 2 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams reprints the text of the 1948 edition. The text of Summer and Smoke printed here is taken from the 1948 New Directions edition.

In December 1949 Williams completed a draft of "The Eclipse of May 29, 1919," one of several working titles he used for the play that would become The Rose Tattoo. He continued working on the play during the winter and following spring, when Cheryl Crawford announced that she would produce the play. Williams revised the play while in Sicily during the summer of 1950, then sent additional changes to Crawford in December while the play was in rehearsal for its Chicago premiere. After the play opened on December 29, 1950, Williams went to Chicago to make further revisions while the play was in production. The Rose Tattoo opened in New York on February 2, 1951, and was published as a book by New Directions on March 30, 1951. "The Timeless World of a Play" was first published as "Concerning the Timeless World of a Play" in The New York Times on January 14, 1951. Williams did not revise The Rose Tattoo for its Dramatists Play Service edition, the English edition, or the version that appears in Volume 2 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. The text printed here is taken from the 1951 New Directions edition of the play.

Camino Real grew out of a one-act play, "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real," written in early 1946 and first printed in American Blues, a pamphlet of one-act plays published by Dramatists Play Service in 1948. Williams finished a draft of a new, expanded version of the play in January 1952. Later that year Cheryl Crawford agreed to produce Camino Real, with Elia Kazan as director. After working on the play while in Europe during the summer of 1952, Williams met with Kazan in September to discuss the script. Following trial runs in New Haven and Philadelphia, the play opened on Broadway on March 19, 1953. Williams altered the script during the New Haven, Philadelphia, and New York productions, and the version published by New Directions in October 1953 incorporates further revisions made after Camino Real closed in New York. Williams did not revise Camino Real for the English edition published by Secker & Warburg in 1958 or for Volume 2 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams. The text printed here is taken from the 1953 New Directions edition.

"Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen" and "Something Unspoken" first appeared in an expanded edition of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays, published by New Directions in 1953. Neither play was subsequently revised by Williams. "'Something Wild'" was first published as "On the Art of Being a True Non-Conformist" in the New York Star, November 7, 1948. It appeared as the introduction to the 1949 second edition of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays and was reprinted without changes in all subsequent editions. The texts for "'Something Wild,'" "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen," and "Something Unspoken" are taken from the 1953 New Directions edition of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act Plays.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof originated in the short story "Three Players of a Summer Game," first published in The New Yorker on November 1, 1952. Williams then adapted the story as a play. In late 1954, the Playwrights Company agreed to produce Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and named Elia Kazan as director. Williams came to New York to meet with Kazan, who suggested revisions in the script and asked Williams to rewrite the third act for the Broadway premiere. The play opened on March 25, 1955, with a revised third act; when published in book form by New Directions later that year, both Williams' original version of the third act and the version performed on Broadway were included, with a "Note of Explanation" discussing the circumstances of the revision. The Dramatists Play Service edition of the play prints the revised third act and does not include Williams' original version. The English edition, published by Secker & Warburg in 1956, and the version that appears in Volume 3 (1971) of The Theatre of Tennessee Williams follow the 1955 New Directions edition. For a 1973 revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Williams wrote still another version of the third act, combining passages from the two versions of the third act presented in the 1955 edition; he also made changes in the first two acts. This version was published in 1975 by New Directions. The text printed here is taken from the 1955 New Directions edition of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and includes both versions of the third act.

This volume presents the texts of the original printings chosen for inclusion here, but it does not attempt to reproduce features of their typographic design. The texts are presented without change, except for the correction of typographical errors. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are often expressive features and are not altered, even when inconsistent or irregular. The following is a list of typographical errors corrected, cited by page and line number: 7.2, 'an; 12.11, Arthur's; 17.13, way?; 19.8, lets; 31.23, it's; 42.7, emotion; 44.12, embarrassment.; 44.26, No.; 62.6, me?; 64.15, sharecroppers; 64.33, you; 66.33, anymore; 91.1, thing; 94.11, Aunt; 95.7, Yes,; 99.5, "Yeah,; 175.25, something; 187.38, Jim,; 195.2, nickles; 200.11, Yes,; 202.21, SANDRAS; 205.13, boys; 210.4, would't; 214.27, youg; 220.10, wont; 225.11, Witche's; 226.2, 'listenin'; 229.10, Is; 232.16, easter; 247.21, dollor; 248.37, keds; 262.22, then; 272.34, thre; 273.16, Picture; 277.40, states; 278.32, thir; 284.9, appelation; 351.25, kindergardeners; 407.28, answer-while; 407.30, Oh!"; 509.20, face; 515.6, Blanches; 527.15, prevue; 531.20, till I; 540.11, Blanches; 542.18, unforgiveable; 558.21, STELLA: Yes; 639.12, So Alma you; 662.2, Rose; 664.16, crooked:; 664.19, because,; 688.29, Rose; 760.8, Maııtre 'D'; 815.33, for; 915.14, dam; 916.35, Lacy; 956.15, Gooper, don't; 1004.12, an.

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