Tennessee Williams’ Later Plays Focus of Free April 16 Lecture at City Tech

Brooklyn, NY — March 27, 2007 — “Transforming Madness into Meaning: The Tragicomic Vision of Tennessee Williams’ Later Plays” will be the focus of a lecture by New York City College of Technology English Professor Annette Saddik on Monday, April 16, at 5 p.m. in the campus’ Atrium Amphitheatre, 300 Jay Street, Downtown Brooklyn. Admission is free.

Saddik, an expert on 20th-century drama and the College’s 2007 Scholar on Campus, will argue that despite Williams’ early successful plays made into films with star-studded casts (Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Paul Newman and Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth), the critical establishment was later “brutal” to the playwright because it didn’t understand his later work.

“He was moving into a different kind of dramatic style, with more reliance on visuals than language, very experimental,” Saddik explains. “It was in step with the type of drama being done in the 1960s and 1970s by Pinter, Beckett and Albee — more tragicomic, fragmented, minimalist. Williams said in a 1972 interview that these forms reflected ‘societies going a bit mad.’ He was very interested in translating both social and emotional chaos into these new forms.”

She also will highlight Williams’ humor. “In the later plays, he’s looking at the absurdities, madness and contradictions of life and laughing at them,” she declares. “Even his early play, The Glass Menagerie, was not supposed to be so earnest, but most productions, including the original, have taken away the irony. His later plays more often celebrate survival rather than plead for understanding of the delicate souls who are destroyed by society.”

Saddik, editor of The Travelling Companion and Other Plays: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams (to be published by New Directions next year), adds that Williams’ heroines in the late plays “are more likely to take control and are no longer victims. There’s a big difference. This change can be seen as reflecting his own attitude toward life as he got older. ”

Her talk will also discuss the effect of Williams’ homosexuality on his work and its critical reception. Perhaps emboldened by New York City’s Stonewall riots of 1969, in which gay men fought back against police brutality, as well as the more accepting social climate in general, Williams affirmed his sexuality in 1970. His subsequent plays were less self-censored.

“Part of the critical reaction to his work seemed to be rooted in homophobia, because he was being more direct rather than only engaging a homosexual subtext as he did in his earlier plays,” she explains. In her lecture, she will read a letter Williams wrote in the late 1970s to author Truman Capote, who was dealing with similar issues. “Williams was sympathetic to Capote’s situation, and basically told him not to despair and to keep his sense of humor,” she says.

Convenient to public transportation, New York City College of Technology is located at the intersection of Jay and Tillary Streets in Downtown Brooklyn. Enter at 300 Jay Street. Take the A, C, F to Jay Street- Borough Hall or the 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R to Borough Hall.

For more information, contact Michele Forsten, 718.260.5979 or mforsten@citytech.cuny.edu.