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Reviews265 Annette J. Saddik, The Politics ofReputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Associated University Presses), 1999. Pp. 173. $33.50. It is a truism ofAmerican culture that an artist is only as good as her most recent work: any momentary fall from grace or deviation from an approach that has attained critical approval is regarded as evidence that the artist no longer has anything worthwhile to offer. Nowhere is that commonplace better illustrated than in the career trajectory of Tennessee Williams, whose plays of the 1940s and 1950s still blaze brilliantly in the firmament of American theater while his dramaturgical experiments ofthe 1960s and 1970s met a critical hostility that precluded their entering the canon of regularly revived plays. Annette J. Saddik sets out in her book to examine reasons for the failure of thelatter group ofplays. Challenging"the conventional wisdom" thatWilliams's later work was the product of a "drug-crazed mind" "incapable of sustaining his former creative powers," Saddik proposes that the real problem lay in the critics' inabilityto tolerate Williams's conscious striving toward new, antirealistic dramatic forms. She claims that her book offers"a new reading ofTennessee Williams' entire career," that it "argues thatWilliams deserves a central place in American experimental drama" (11). Though documentation of"the conventional wisdom" (a term used four times on one page without reference to the sources of such wisdom) would be useful, Saddik's point about Williams's effort to explore unconventional techniques in defiance ofcritical expectations is certainlyvalid. Indeed, it is a point I made in my own 1979 book,which I didn't consider particularly original even at that time; thus one might question the newness ofSaddik's "new reading." The absence of my book—along with certain more influential works on Williams, including George W. Crandell's The Critical Response to Tennessee Williams (1996)—from Saddik's field of references suggests that her research was not exhaustive. That could be overlooked ifonly this book delivered what it promised. Williams afficionados will be disappointed that ThePolitics ofReputation fails to make a convincing case for the importance ofWilliams's late plays. Saddiklays the groundwork forher studyintelligendy,carefullydistinguishing between reviewers and critics, defining what is understood as "realism" in the theater, incorporating statements by Williams about his own creative process and intentions. Chapter 1 traces "The Rise and Fall of a Reputation" by culling phrases and occasionally whole paragraphs from the critical responses to the original productions. The method may be valid ifthe scholar can maintain objectivityin the process; here, however,the contextualizingcommentary— for example,"reviewers' enthusiastic support overall" (26),"reviewers found it 266Comparative Drama difficult to say anything positive" (26), "he felt the need to qualify his praise" (30), "almost all unanimously" (34), "almost unanimously" (35), "reviewers generally felt" (36)—betrays authorial selectivity to serve the thesis. Certainly, reading is interpretation, so let it be noted that my reading of Walter Kerr's writing on Camino Real diners significantly from Saddik's: I see no "violent reaction" in the sentence she quotes, nor do I think it fair to say that "Kerr has a single objective standard in mind for judging good drama" (36). Chapter 2, "? Don't Like to Write Realistically': Williams' Uneasy Relationship with Realism," offers a thoughtful assessment ofthe theatricalist realism of Williams's plays of the 1940s and 1950s. Various theorists are cited to good effect in the discussion ofa corpus that was able to pass for realism even as it employed all sorts of nonrealistic devices. Saddik's analysis of The Glass Menagerie (51-8) skillfully supports her view that "the contradiction between Williams' dissatisfaction with conventional realism and his simultaneous embrace of an essentially realistic mode in his early plays stems from his own struggle and ambivalence concerning the representation oftruth" (62). Unfortunately , the chapter breaks down when Saddik begins to identify realism with "industrial capitalism" (63). Forexample:"his themes often dealwith the tragic effect that capitalism has on the characters" (63); "his early plays offer a subtie but powerful challenge to realism's ideological goals by manipulating the mythology of industrial capitalism rather than completely reinforcing it" (63-4); "Blanche is not self-sufficient...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 265-267
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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