Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

John Lahr, Author
John Lahr. Norton, $37.95 (736p) ISBN 978-0-393-02124-0
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Writing with sympathy and insight, former New Yorker drama critic Lahr (Prick Up Your Ears) invests the Tennessee Williams of this brilliant new biography with the same vitality and honesty that the playwright used to bring his characters to life. Williams wrote that he “saw every play and every film I ever worked on as a confession,” and Lahr looks to his scripts as the chief means of understanding his turbulent life, beginning with the delicate poetry of The Glass Menagerie, which is encoded with sentiments from his fraught childhood relationships with his mother and sister. Quoting extensively from diaries, notebooks, and journals, Lahr depicts Williams as an artist who “made a spectacle of his haunted interior.” His detailed account of Williams’s work with Elia Kazan on the stage productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and other projects reveals the complex dynamics of one of the greatest partnerships in modern theater, just as his exploration of Williams’s troubled romantic relationships highlights the self-destructive proclivities that fueled and threatened his creativity. Lahr’s feel for Williams’s literary creations—he describes The Glass Menagerie’s Amanda Wingfield as an “embattled bundle of Southern decorum and Puritan denial”—and for Williams himself show a perspicacity wanting in previous biographies. Though Lahr acknowledges the successes of previous Williams scholars, his achievement is not likely to be surpassed. 80 photos. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Inc. (Sept.)
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