Entertainment » Theatre

Lanford Wilson recalls Tennessee Williams

by Robert Israel
Thursday Sep 17, 2009

Lanford Wilson speaks with a warm Midwestern twang that traces back to his Lebanon, Missouri roots, where he was born in 1937. An openly declared gay playwright, he is the author of The Madness of Lady Bright, a groundbreaking play about the life of a drag queen, produced by Caffe Cino in New York in 1964. In subsequent years, he founded the Circle Repertory (now defunct), credited as the harbinger of the Off-Broadway movement. Many years and many plays later, Circle Rep produced his drama, Tally’s Folly, which was later awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize.

Wilson is as plain speaking as another famous Missourian, Harry S. Truman. A long time resident of Sag Harbor, New York, Wilson will travel to Provincetown as a special guest of the Fourth Annual Tennessee Williams Festival. The event, Coffee With Lanford Wilson, takes place on September 27th at 11 a.m., at Central House at the Crown and Anchor.

Appearing with Wilson will be Tennessee Williams scholar and New Directions editor Thomas Keith, who will serve as interviewer/moderator. Keith has written that the young Wilson was influenced by Williams as far back as high school, "where he played Tom in The Glass Menagerie. His early plays show flashes of Williams’ influence, and his autobiographical ’memory play’ Lemon Sky owes some debt to The Glass Menagerie."

How they met

But then Wilson matured and went on to make his own mark on the American theatre. He has been lauded by the New York Times as a playwright who has "special gifts for listening and for recording and giving voice to the innermost workings of the human heart."

Lanford Wilson met Williams through mutual friend Lee Hoiby, with whom he wrote an opera based on Williams’ play Summer and Smoke. Wilson went on to collaborate with Williams on several other projects.

In a recently published introductory essay to Williams’ "Sweet Bird of Youth," published by New Directions, Wilson writes: "We talked about a lot of things-well, he talked, I listened. Tennessee had been everywhere, of course, and knew everyone, and I knew no one and hadn’t been anywhere."

In late 1969, several months before they met, Williams was hospitalized in Wilson’s home state of Missouri for mental illness and drug addiction. In the process of withdrawing from drugs Williams suffered seizures and had two heart attacks. According to published biographical notes, Williams was finally able to return to his home - and to writing -- in Key West in December of that year.


Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook