Tennessee’s Reach

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influence of Tennessee WilliamsThe Influence of Tennessee Williams: Essays on Fifteen American Playwrights
Edited by Philip C. Kolin
McFarland. 239 pages, $39.95

 

THE ESSAYS collected by Philip Kolin in this volume expand upon historian David Bergman’s observations concerning “the genealogy of transformation that occurs as successive generations of gay writers work through each others’ material, transfiguring a homophobic trope into a somewhat celebratory one.” The essays on William Inge, Edward Albee, and Tony Kushner demonstrate how Tennessee Williams’ representation of homosexuality on stage blazed a trail followed by others, and, conversely, how the later Williams was himself influenced by the continued developments wrought by Inge and Albee. More provocative, however, are the essays that demonstrate how straight playwrights have struggled to fill the space opened on the stage by the deliciously queer Williams for the socially marginalized, the sexually aggressive, and the poetically rich but ultimately ineffective characters who are not interested in pursuing “the American dream.” In effect, these playwrights reversed the process analyzed by Bergman, as the history of American theatre following Williams has proven to be, in part, the tale of straight playwrights struggling to match Williams’ poetic and sexual audacity.

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