20th-Century Drama Expert Named 2007 City Tech Scholar on Campus

Brooklyn, NY — April 9, 2007 — New York City College of Technology/CUNY (City Tech) has named Associate Professor of English Annette Saddik its 2007 Scholar on Campus.

In the letter informing Dr. Saddik, a specialist in 20th-century drama, that she was chosen, Provost Bonne August stated, “Your research on Tennessee Williams is not only a major contribution to your field, but also brings honor to the college.”

The well-deserved award is one Williams would have endorsed highly. The playwright, who once wrote, “Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life, could have been describing Dr. Saddik’s work and her attitude toward it. She is extremely active in scholarly activities concerning American theatre, and seems to have boundless energy for her subject.

On March 30 she participated in a panel on “The Politics of Tennessee Williams” at the annual Tennessee Williams Scholars Conference in New Orleans (her seventh appearance). Her essay, “Blueprints for the Reconstruction: Postmodern Possibility in Tennessee Williams’ ‘Stairs to the Roof’,” will soon appear in the Tennessee Williams Annual Review. She is currently editing The Travelling Companion and Other Plays: The Later Plays of Tennessee Williams, a volume of his unpublished work, to be published by New Directions next year. And last October, she was tapped for the Roundabout Theater Company’s Lecture Series post-performance discussion after the premiere of its Broadway revival of Suddenly Last Summer, starring Blythe Danner.

Dr. Saddik is also the co-editor of Entering Into Discourse: An Advanced Expository Writing Reader (Minnesota: Burgess Publishing, 1996) and Contemporary American Drama, to be published this fall by Edinburgh University Press, as well as several essays in journals such as Modern Drama, The Drama Review, Études Théâtrales, and South Atlantic Review. As part of her work on The Travelling Companion and Other Plays, she is consulting with directors, such as David Kaplan, artistic curator of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, on his production of Williams’ The Day on Which a Man Dies, which will premiere next year. Dr. Saddik also serves on the editorial board of the journal Theatre Topics.

Her Scholar on Campus Lecture, scheduled for Monday, April 16, at 5 p.m. in City Tech’s Atrium Amphitheatre, will focus on Williams’ later work, but she also wants to introduce her audience to other sides of the playwright not typically addressed. Her lecture, “Transforming Madness into Meaning: The Tragicomic Vision of Tennessee Williams’ Later Plays,” will reveal that despite his 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, among others), the critical establishment was later “brutal” to Williams because it didn’t understand his new work.

“He was moving into a different kind of dramatic style, with more reliance on visuals than language, very experimental,” Dr. 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.”

Dr. Saddik 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.”

She 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 Williams’ own attitude toward life as he got older. ”

Williams, Dr. Saddik asserts, was also political from the beginning of his career. “He sometimes denied a direct interest in politics and emphasized that he wasn’t an ‘intellectual,’ but his politics were implicit in his work. Throughout interviews from the1960s to the 1980s, and certainly in his later plays, he addresses the Vietnam War, the cultural revolutions of the period and the threat of nuclear holocaust. And the earlier 1953 play Camino Real is a reaction to the oppressions of McCarthyism.”

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. Thus his subsequent plays, says Dr. Saddik, 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.

Gender and sexual identity are the focus of a new English course Saddik will teach at City Tech this fall, “Evolving Identities.” She is creating the syllabus with colleagues Professor Charles Hirsch, who originated the idea for the course, and Professor Jane Feder. Saddik says she is enthused about teaching it because in her book Contemporary American Drama, she deals with the issue of identity — sexual, racial and cultural — in contemporary American drama, and what it means to be a man or a woman, gay or straight, black or white, on the stage.

The course syllabus includes works from 1950 to the present, but as a scholar of performance art as well as drama, Saddik is adding her own slant. In addition to novels, poetry and plays by well-established authors Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag (Notes on Camp), Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”), Larry Kramer (The Normal Heart) and David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), the course will include the work of performance artist Holly Hughes and the performance group Split Britches, as well as the films Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don’t Cry.

The largest public college of technology in New York State, New York City College of Technology of The City University of New York enrolls more than 13,000 students in 57 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs. Another 15,000 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex, convenient to public transportation.

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