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The Circle Closed: A Psychological Reading of The Glass Menagerie and The Two Character Play R.B. PARKER "He thought he could create his own circle of light." III the Bar ofa Tokyo Hotel On February 25, 1983, I was correcting galley proofs of a Twentieth Century Interpretations volume on The Glass Menagerie when it was announced over the radio that Tennessee Williams had died in a New York hotel, bizarrely choking on a plastic bottle-top while under the influence of barbiturates.I A spate of eulogies followed. Walter Kerr called him "the greatest American playwright. Period."; and Marlon Brando affirmed more personally that Tennessee Williams "was a very brave man ... he never lied or flunked. He told the truth as best he perceived it, and never turned away from things that beset or frightened him.,,2 I sadly added a last item to the chronology at the back of my anthology. I had been asked to edit that collection ofessays because, in casual chat with the general editor, I said it seemed to me perverse to reduce the heavy theatricalism of The Glass Menagerie, as most productions do, and particularly wrong to dismiss its film projections as awkward, pretentious, and jejune - as even sympathetic critics like Lester A. Beaurline and Gerald Debusscher had recently maintained.3 There are two distinct versions of The Glass Menagerie in print. The Dramatists Play Service's "acting edition" is based on the version actually staged by Eddie Dowling in 1945 (and still preferred for most productions). This has no projections or mimed action, and the text shows considerable rewording, especially in the Amanda speeches and in Tom's "framework" speeches (that is, those speeches in which Tom-remembering introduces and 518 R.B. PARKER comments on the play directly to the audience). The other version, known as the "reading edition," published originally by Random House and currently by New Directions, is the one that Williams, having bowed to Dowling's pressure for changes in the performance text, nevertheless insisted be printed and has enshrined in his Collected Theatre. This does have the projections; much ofthe play's early business must be mimed (for example, in scene one, the family is directed to mime eating with non-existent knives, forks and food); and the wording is much more complex and ironically ambivalent than in the acting text. In particular, there is acertain self-conscious, overelaborate "poeticizing" quality in Tom's framework speeches, particularly at the end, which produces what is perhaps one of Williams's most characteristic effects as a theatre artist, the effect of self-conscious symbolism (let us call it) which can be seen at its fullest development in Camino Real, and which is also integral to the peculiar "Memory Play" effect he was pioneering in The Glass Menagerie, a point that will be returned to later. To research background for the anthology, I visited the University of Texas at Austin-in order to examine the big Williams archive that had recently been deposited in the Humanities Research Center there, only to be appalled at th~ sheer amount of material that confronted me. Williams was a compulsive writer: he spent four or five hours at his typewriter every morning, no matter where he was, partly as therapy but also as the one consistency in his otherwise anarchic life; and he was a compulsive rewriter, who explained to one of his interviewers: Finishing a play, you know, is like completing a marriage or a love affair.... You feel very forsaken by that, that's why I love reviSing and reviSing, because it delays the moment when there is this separation between you and the work.4 He was apt to put the same material through many different forms: poem, short story, one-act play, full-length play (rewritten several times), novel, and film or television script; and he claimed that no work could be considered fixed until he has stopped working on it. Three years ago, the Texas material was only roughly sorted out by title; and, to compound confusion, in revising Williams had the habit of mixing altered pages with pages from earlier drafts that needed no change. There is thus...


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