Tennessee Williams: the quiet revolutionary

From The Guardian:

Tennessee-Williams-002 Who is Britain's favourite American dramatist? One year it seems to be Arthur Miller, the next it's David Mamet. Right now, Tennessee Williams is having a moment. Rachel Weisz opens in A Streetcar Named Desire tonight, at the Donmar in London. In December, a Broadway African-American Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, starring James Earl Jones and Adrian Lester, comes to the West End. And, in between, there is the European premiere of a forgotten 1937 play, Spring Storm, at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton. But, for all our enthusiasm for Williams, I think we still get him subtly wrong. He is most often dubbed a “psychological” dramatist, but this ignores his social and political radicalism – as well as his rich talent for comedy.

Of course, perceptions of Williams have evolved over the years. When Streetcar was first seen in London in 1949, in a production directed by Laurence Olivier and starring Vivien Leigh, Williams was viewed as a kind of filthy American sleaze-merchant. The confrontation of Blanche Dubois and Stanley Kowalski sent the British press into a tizzy: Logan Gourlay in the Sunday Express spoke for many when he condemned the play as “the progress of a prostitute, the flight of a nymphomaniac, the ravings of a sexual neurotic”. The play was attacked in Parliament as “low and repugnant”, and by the Public Morality Council as “salacious and pornographic”. When Cat On a Hot Tin Roof had its British premiere in 1958, it had to be presented under the polite fiction of a “club performance” – lest the broader public be corrupted by the discreet suggestion that its hero, Brick, is gay.

More here.