Tag Archives: tennessee williams

Those Rare Electrical Things Between People

I finished a collection of Tennessee William’s short one act plays this week on a whim – recalling the sweetness of reading Streetcar Named Desire. It was stunningly gripping and beautiful – the sort of plots which creep onto you and overwhelm you with a sudden confrontation of temptingly human characters.

Paradise – a word which recalls so many meanings. To regain paradise, to retrace the road to pleasure in a world of pain and loss, is a common theme in the work of Williams. William’s characters blend a sort of Henrik Ibsen reckless passion and Manon vulnerability – they are driven by the desire to see beyond the walls of their worlds, to see outside and above and beyond it – leading to a singular encounter of the kind that Lawrence describes as ‘one of those rare electrical things beyond people’.

In Summer at the Lake, a 16 year old boy is denounced by his mother as a ‘dreamer’ without a future, his mother’s voice rings through the play, her questions are gapped in the boy’s empty’s replies, and while she builds her dreams of him in a steady industrialist job, he flees the house to go swimming in the lake. In the space between words, the reader glimpses the desire of the boy to escape his identity constructed by his mother and the world he lives in.

A personal favourite was And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens, about the private life of ‘Candy’ Deleany, a New Orleans fashionable tranvestite recalling the plot of Sunset Boulevard. Her lingering emotions and heartfelt desire to seek out the unlikely passion of a sailor make for an awkward empathy for the reader, and an interesting statement by Williams of homosexuality in postwar drama and film. The self-conscious naivete of Williams’ characters are evident, and yet they are passionate, non-conformist individuals:-

I think the strange, the crazed, the queer
will have their holiday this year,
I think for just a little while
there will be pity for the wild.
I think in places known as gay,
in secret clubs and private bars,
the damned will serenade the damned
with frantic drums and wild guitars.

I think for some uncertain reason,
mercy will be shown this season
to the lovely and misfit,
to the brilliant and deformed—

I think they will be housed and warmed
And fed and comforted awhile
before, with such a tender smile,
the earth destroys her crooked child.

On other things. A week ago I came across my old diary, and came across a passage I had copied from Machado De Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, in which the protagonist speaks of old letters:

Unenlightened reader, if you do not keep the letters of your youth you will never enjoy the pleasure of seeing yourself, far off in the flatteringly dim light, with a three-cornered hat, seven-league boots, and curled mustachios, dancing at a ball to the music of Anacreontic pipes. By all means, save the letters of your youth.

Or, if you do not like the figure of the three-cornered hat, I shall use an expression of an old sailor who used to come to Cotrim’s house. I shall say that, if you save the letters of your youth, you will be able to “sing a yearning.” It seems that our sailors give this name to songs about the land that are sung only at sea. It would be hard to find a more poetic expression of nostalgia.

On British romantic tragedies- read Agatha Christie’s Giant Bread last week (under her pen-name Mary Westmacott) and it proved to be a brilliant and pleasurable read- even better than her detective fiction. Features the gettings-on of an avant garde musician and his devastating romances and flight to music. Reminded me of Evelyn Waugh, but she wrote so poignantly of childhood, I found myself wishing I had a similar grandmother and mauve violets on my wallpaper. Really worth reading if you are in the library. It usually comes with her trio collections, under Mary Westmacott.

And for those with ipods – I’ve been listening to the 45C English classes of UC Berkeley Charles Altieri and John Bishop – there are some good ipod downloads, though most are frightful, and even Oliver Wendell Holmes on law turns out to be quite a bore. But these were quite good – the tapes deal with the modernism of English literature – some Dickens, Yeats, Pound etc. (though I am not quite an Ezra Pound fan, I like Yeats terribly) and moving on to the novelists James, Conrad, Woolf (I dislike James as much as I adore Conrad, and even did Conrad for Special Paper in junior college). As Lawrence adorably intoned,  the two men are ideal foils for one another. Altieri delivers with a lovable Woody Allen, schizoid New Yorker style, whereas Bishop utilizes an incredibly dense stream of monotone. What I would like, a blossoming romantic ze French accent, winning the hearts of girls over radio waves.

Also reading Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell – a treatise on poverty strongly recommended by a friend. Unfortunately I think its ok though, the stories are entertaining, but not enjoying it all that much. It makes me worry about the day where I might have to sell my coats at a pawn shop though.

So many other books I’ve been promising to share with you, Irving! You have to especially read the Giant’s Bread. But I really ought to go back to my law assignment, now. I feel so reluctant and frightfully like a procastinating kitten with an old grey mouse toy. Please call me soon to tell me about flute girl after all my assignments are finished.


Tennessee Williams 1911 – 1983 – NYT

Tennessee Williams, author of more than 24 full-length plays, including ”The Glass Menagerie,” ”A Streetcar Named Desire,” ”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – the latter two won Pulitzer Prizes – and ”The Night of the Iguana,” had a profound effect on the American theater and on American playwrights and actors. He wrote with deep sympathy and expansive humor about outcasts in our society. Though his images were often violent, he was a poet of the human heart.

His works, which are among the most popular plays of our time, continue to provide a rich reservoir of acting challenges. Among the actors celebrated in Williams roles were Laurette Taylor in ”The Glass Menagerie”; Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in ”A Streetcar Named Desire” (and Vivien Leigh in the movie version), and Burl Ives in ”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

”The Glass Menagerie,” his first success, was his ”memory play.” Many of his other plays were his nightmares. Although seldom intentionally autobiographical, the plays were almost all intensely personal — torn from his own private anguishes and anxieties.

He once described his sister’s room in the family home in St. Louis, with her collection of glass figures, as representing ”all the softest emotions that belong to recollection of things past.” But, he remembered, outside the room was an alley in which, nightly, dogs destroyed cats.

Mr. Williams’s work, which was unequaled in passion and imagination by any of his contemporaries’ works, was a barrage of conflicts, of the blackest horrors offset by purity. Perhaps his greatest character, Blanche Du Bois, the heroine of ”Streetcar,” has been described as a tigress and a moth, and, as Mr. Williams created her, there was no contradiction. — From the obituary by Mel Gussow, February 26, 1983.

“When I first saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew.” – William Shakespeare

I remember this song from a movie I once watched with D. I remember that when the soundtrack played, we were both very silent for the whole length of the song, and then, a thousand thoughts had ran through my mind. It still is, when I am with people that my soul is at rest with – that there are sometimes the knowing silences – we are sharing, caressing each other’s thoughts while impressing on ourselves the selfish other worlds that we keep within ourselves- and when we return, at the end of the silence – we are so awakened by the intensity of the moment, and the other gives me nothing but a knowing, secret smile. Dark, secret desires from our solitude, but there is the fragility of other things to think about when we return back to life.

R shared of this Arab-esque moment too once, with me and S, and how she returned to reality and the world too fast. We are afraid to fall into the silences, and yet when they come, there is an endearing obsessive quality about them – the way one is in the middle of a game – in the intensity to continue and throw and risk everything in that moment. It is selfish, but also ardently precious and beautiful.

R and I are like that – we are eternally falling in and out of love with other people,but so secretly and nonchalantly, that they may never know.

I found an old photograph of when I played Blanche Dubois from Tennessee William’s A Streetcar named Desire. R and I, R was my Mitch. I loved being Blanche, her manipulative, vulnerable ways, the ways to play with light in the setting, the darkness of the underlying subtle denouements, the screeching of the train rails – Tennessee Williams remains one of my favourite and most respected playwrights of all time, and I still have fond memories of his plays – especially Streetcar named Desire and The Glass Menagerie.

BLANCHE. You love her very much, don’t you?


BLANCHE. I think you have a great capacity for devotion. You will be lonely when she passes on, won’t you? [Mitch clears his throat and nods] I understand what that is.

MITCH. To be lonely?

BLANCHE. I loved someone, too, and the person I loved I lost.

MITCH. Dead? [She crosses to the window and sits on the sill, looking out. She pours herself another drink] A man?

BLANCHE. He was a boy, just a boy, when I was a very young girl. When I was sixteen, I made the discovery — love. All at once and much, much too completely. It was like you suddenly turned a blinding light on something that had always been half in shadow, that’s how it struck the world for me. But I was unlucky. Deluded. There was something different about the boy, a nervousness, a softness and tenderness which wasn’t like a man’s, although he wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking — still — that thing was there … He came to me for help. I didn’t know that. I didn’t find out anything till after our marriage when we’d run away and come back and all I knew was I’d failed him in some mysterious way and wasn’t able to give the help he needed but couldn’t speak of! He was in the quicksands and clutching at me — but I wasn’t holding him out, I was slipping in with him! I didn’t know that. I didn’t know anything except I loved him unendurably but without being able to help him or help myself. Then I found out. In the worst of all possible ways. By coming suddenly into a room that I thought was empty — which wasn’t empty, but had two people in it … the boy I had married and an older man who had been his friend for years …

[A locomotive is heard approaching outside. She claps her hands to her ears and crouches over. The headlight of the locomotive glares into the room as it thunders past. As the noise recedes she straightens slowly and continues speaking.]

Afterward we pretended that nothing had been discovered. Yes, the three of us drove out to Moon Lake Casino, very drunk and laughing all the way.

[Polka music sounds, in a minor key faint with distance]

We danced the Varsouviana! Suddenly, in the middle of the dance the boy I had married broke away from me and ran out of the casino. A few moments later — a shot!

[The polka stops abruptly. Blanche rises stiffly. Then, the polka resumes in a major key]

I ran out — all did! — all ran and gathered about the terrible thing at the edge of the lake! I couldn’t get near for the crowding. Then somebody caught my arm. “Don’t go any closer! Come back! You don’t want to see!” See? See what! Then I heard voices say — Allan! Allan! The Grey boy! He’d stuck the revolver into his mouth, and fired — so that the back of his head had been — blown away!

[She sways and covers her face]

It was because — on the dance floor — unable to stop myself — I’d suddenly said — “I saw! I know! You disgust me …” And then the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and never for one moment since has there been any light that’s stronger than this — kitchen — candle …

[Mitch gets up awkwardly and moves toward her a little. The polka music increases. Mitch stands beside her]

MITCH. [drawing her slowly into his arms] You need somebody. And I need somebody, too. Could it be — you and me, Blanche?

[She stares at him vacantly for a moment. Then with a soft cry huddles in his embrace. She makes a sobbing effort to speak but the words won’t come. He kisses her forehead and her eyes and finally her lips. The polka tune fades out. Her breath is drawn and released in long, grateful sobs]

I want to dance the Varsouviana again.

Sometimes…there’s God…so quickly!

I love the pure beastiality of this moment. One of the finest cinematic moments of all time – and Marlon Brando was just awesome.

In many ways the veneer of Blanche is so similar to mine own – and it may be that Nat King Cole’s ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ is a song deservedly mine as it was hers.

Cheers to all the women who read this blog and know exactly what I mean.


And on a lighter note…yes I still rely on the kindness of strangers:

Afternoon cakes, a gift from my dearest SH, from Patisserie. We loved the cakes so much, and I indulged especially in a darling blueberry confectionary.

The last week … has been unforgettable, to say the least. I went on exploratory journeys with JRV and old friends…walking the streets late in the night singing for supper…having lamb moussaka in random Turkish restaurants, JRV recounting Persian food in Germany. Walking under the rain with J and co. in City Hall, the quiet light of old hotels under the rain, stories of little Korean girls who fall in love with J, finding out what Orchard Towers is (I have lived in naivety in the past 23 years yes,), japanese rainbow salmon/yellowtail and Dir En Grey becoming a centerpiece for a hunger song on the third floor of Raffles City, girl techno in the bubbly happy darkness next to a war memorial, having dinner with the lovely K where we shared about love and loli, an incredible and very, very epic Black Alice tea party coupled with almost thirty girls, in the car with ZT talking about Fanny Brawne and John Keats, falling asleep to JRV’s last message.

How can I even start.

(from WH’s album, my photos have not been processed yet):

Will share more about the tea party next time. A thousand things to finish – lots of work and other administrative matters.

When I finally get my car…I want something like T’s Honda Civic Type-R! It was gorgeous.

I am so happy and weary- but a good state to be in.

I wish I could finish my insider trading/ margin calls cases soon before June sets in – to finish all my cases on hand before I go for the bar course.

I’m sorry to all my law juniors and literature tutees that I may not have reverted to all your recent essay queries yet! Things have been so busy! I’ll try to be back and will answer each and every of your messages soon. ^-^

The red roses and still thriving, and are the first thing I see in the morning. Thank you.

I am different from you Beansprouts, flowers keep me alive. Of sorts. (I’ll let an orange tulip take the brunt of your legal rebuttal)