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ARTY 47: Tennessee Williams

Spring/Summer 2024


Edited by Cathy Lomax & Jaclyn Bethany


   

Front and back cover images by Jennifer Caroline Campbell

         
With contributions from: Sheila O'Malley, Lizzie Annis, Lucy Cade, Rosemary Cronin, Sopie Dusko, Gavin Maughfling, Alex Michon, Irene Gomez-Emilsson, Jacob Storms, Jean Lichty, Joey Merlo, Carrie Hook, Greer Sinclair, Nancy Schoenberger, Josh Feye, Lucy Bolton, Lin Gathright, Christie Herring, Felicia Londré, Cathy Lomax, Jaclyn Bethany.

 

 

Seductive, Thrilling & Morally Deplorable... Why We Love Tennessee Williams


For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the American South (see Arty Deep South), with Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Bessie Smith and of course Tennessee Williams, all important figures in my cultural life. Born in Mississippi, Williams became suddenly famous at age 33 with the success of his play The Glass Menagerie. As a biography for the PBS Masters series has it:

He was brilliant and prolific, breathing life and passion into such memorable characters as Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. And like them, he was troubled and self-destructive, an abuser of alcohol and drugs. He was awarded four Drama Critic Circle Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was derided by critics and blacklisted by Roman Catholic Cardinal Spellman, who condemned one of his scripts as ‘revolting, deplorable, morally repellent, offensive to Christian standards of decency.’ He was Tennessee Williams, one of the greatest playwrights in American history.

I’ve watched every film adaptation of Williams’ work, and made artworks inspired by many of them. So, I was excited when Jaclyn Bethany, a polymath who moves between writing, acting and directing, for both film and theatre, and like Williams a native of Mississippi, suggested we collaborate on an issue of Arty devoted to this fascinating figure.

Bethany has gathered an impressive group of contributors for the issue, many of whom are directly involved in interpreting the work of Tennessee Williams. I am especially delighted to have Joey Merlo on board as he provides a direct link to Williams through his uncle Frank who was in a relationship with the playwright for many years. Alongside film and theatre professionals, and academics, our contributors include a cast of artists who have been similarly moved by the work of Williams. So why does Tennessee Williams continue to connect with us (a question many of the contributors address)? I suspect it's his strong female characters, who may be put upon, but as Anwesha Mukherjee puts it in The Punch Magazine, survive by escaping 'to their world of fancies and illusions to avoid the harsh unfairness and indignities of patriarchy'. Williams' frenemy, Gore Vidal, sees these women as the playwright's avatars:

The male is his obsession, and male sexuality his benchmark. Females are principal characters in his plays because its through them that you’re going to view the male, which is the playwright's objective.

And maybe this is the key; Williams eschews the traditional male gaze and replaces it, for our pleasure, with the female/queer gaze, and this is thrilling and still uncommon.


Cathy Lomax

May 2024  
   

 

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Arty 47


£5 + UK postage   (contact us for international orders)



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EVENT

Arty 47 launch alongside the Transition Projects X SPACE exhibition Hard Candy
Friday 24 May 2024, 6-8pm
exhibition continues until 2 June

The exhibition includes work by the artists included in the issue and co-editor Jaclyn Bethany will be reading from Tennessee Williams at the opening

SPACE Pop-up
129 Mare Street, London E8 3RH

 

PODCAST

Jaclyn Bethany discusses the Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie with Cathy Lomax and Jennifer Caroline Campbell on the Garageland Salon podcast - coming soon.

 

BONUS CONTENT

We have made these two Tennessee Williams articles from back issues of Arty available to read in full.

Fever, the Hot and Bothered Characters of Southern Literature by Sarah Cleaver from Arty 33: Deep South
examines two of Williams' iconic women: Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire and Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof amongst other heat-affected Southern characters.  

The Roman Spring of Tennessee Williams by Cathy Lomax from Arty 34: Rome
set in the eternal city in the 1950s, when Americans were drawn by the promise of post-war sun, sex, glamour, freedom and history, the article looks at Williams' time in Italy and the drifting mind of artistic inspiration.