The plays of Tennessee Williams' post-1961 period have often been misunderstood and dismissed. In light of Williams' centennial in 2011, which was marked internationally by productions and world premieres of his late plays, Annette J. Saddik's new reading of these works illuminates them in the context of what she terms a 'theatre of excess', which seeks liberation through exaggeration, chaos, ambiguity, and laughter. Saddik explains why they are now gaining increasing acclaim, and analyzes recent productions that successfully captured elements central to Williams' late aesthetic, particularly a delicate balance of laughter and horror with a self-consciously ironic acting style. Grounding the plays through the work of Bakhtin, Artaud, and Kristeva, as well as through the carnivalesque, the grotesque, and psychoanalytic, feminist, and queer theory, Saddik demonstrates how Williams engaged the freedom of exaggeration and excess in celebration of what he called 'the strange, the crazed, the queer'.
Annette J. Saddik is Professor of English and Theatre at the City University of New York (CUNY), where she teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center and New York City College of Technology. She is the author of Contemporary American Drama (2007) and The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays (1999), the first exploration of Williams' post-1961 reputation. She is also the editor of Tennessee Williams: The Traveling Companion and Other Plays (2008) and has published essays on various playwrights in journals such as Modern Drama, The Drama Review (TDR), and South Atlantic Review, as well as in numerous critical anthologies and encyclopedias. She serves on the editorial boards of Theatre Topics, the Tennessee Williams Annual Review, and the Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, and recently received the 2015 McAndless Distinguished Professor Award to serve as scholar-in-residence at Eastern Michigan University.
Introduction: 'sicker than necessary': Tennessee Williams' theatre of excess; 1. 'Drowned in Rabelaisian laughter': Germans as grotesque comic figures in Williams' plays of the 1960s and '70s; 2. 'Benevolent anarchy': Williams' late plays and the theater of cruelty; 3. 'Writing calls for discipline!': chaos, creativity, and madness in Clothes for a Summer Hotel; 4. 'Act naturally': embracing the monstrous woman in The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, The Mutilated, and The Pronoun 'I'; 5. 'There's something not natural here': grotesque ambiguities in Kingdom of Earth, A Cavalier for Milady and A House Not Meant to Stand; 6. 'All drama is about being extreme': 'in-yer-face' sex, war, and violence; Conclusion: 'the only thing to do is laugh'.