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FOUND TEXT: Tennessee Williams Will Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? CHARACTERS LOUISE NORA GLORIA THE APPARITION OF VINCENT VAN GOGH A LIBRARIAN, MISS CALHOUN A "ROMANTICALLY HANDSOME YOUTH" MISS YORKE, AN ENGLISH TEACHER THE EUMENIDES (3) THE "INSTRUCTOR" AT LE CERCLE MRS. BIDDLE THE APPARITION OF ARTHUR RIMBAUD THE APPARITION OF HIS SISTER, ISABELLE MRS. ELDRIDGE MR. MERRIWETHER THE NEGRO DANCERS (2 or 3 couples) THE BANJO PLAYER THE APPARITION OF CORNELIUS WADDLES Introduction When Dan Isaac, a theater historian and reviewer for Back Stage, met Tennessee WUliams for an interview in the Plaza Hotel in 1969, the playwright was feeling restless. Williams normally swam an extraordinary two to three hours a day, partly for therapy, but he had been seriously ill the previous winter with the Hong Kong flu, and unable to exercise. With what Isaac termed "comic majesty," he announced that his health was "deplorable." In this negative frame of mind he had just cancelled the opening of In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel in order to rewrite some of the dialogue. Asked about other current work, Williams mentioned a play he had been writing off and on for some time, called WiZ/ Mr. Merriwether Return from Memphis? "It's about two women neighbors, both of whom receive apparitions," he told Isaacs. Describing the timbre of the work, he told his interviewer, "Mr. Merriwether is a very funny play." Mr. Merriwether is indeed funny, merging the humorously surreal and the absurd with scenes from stock comedy. But at bottom, the play is about mortality —the ghosts of the dead banging on the door of life to be let back in—perhaps because Williams resumed writing it while mourning the death of his companion, Frank Merlo. If "comic majesty" can be applied to its author in the last years of his career, it also describes the play itself, which manages to be funny at the same time that it tries to articulate, with mixed success, the heart of human sadness. There is no known documentation that tells us when Williams began writing this play, but biographer LyIe Leverich says that it was probably scattered in his script bag from the late 1950s. Williams had the eccentric habit of never numbering his pages. He revised heavily and usually worked on several projects at once; Mr. Merriwether must have been written concurrently with one or more of his masterpieces. Because Williams worked and reworked his subjects and themes, it would be risky at best to try to date the play's inception by subject . Nostalgia for an older—usually Southern—society, sexual repression, the role of the artist/social outcast, human yearning, insanity: all are classic Williams themes, and all figure in this play which was produced once, in 1980, as the inaugural play for the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center in Key West, but never published. Whether begun in the fifties or perhaps earlier, the play is reminiscent of one of the playwright's best-known works of the fifties, Camino Real. Both plays braid fact and fantasy, and both include appearances by historic personages— and, in the case of Camino Real, by famous characters as well. The experimental, dream-like Camino Real brought to the stage, Camille, Byron, Casanova, Don Quixote and the archetypal American "Kilroy," together with modern characters in the street. Similarly, Mr. Merriwether features the apparitions of Vincent Van Gogh and the poet, Arthur Rimbaud. But while Camino Real is set in a Tennessee Williams The Missouri Review · 81 mythical Latin American town, the setting of Mr. Merriwether is Williams' own American South: Bethesda, Mississippi at the turn of the century. The play's dominant color is white—Williams believed color has a fierce life of its own—and the stage setting, carefully described in the script, is stylized without being minimalist. In all the interior scenes of the play, the white of the room is offset by a dark, curtained doorway, through which the characters often enter and leave, and through which the ghosts also appear. In one absurd scene, a dream of a French lesson, the instructor drills his students, making sure they understand that the door represents "the element of mystery in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 79-132
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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