Recent re-evaluation of Tennessee Williams’s late plays has brought to light another side of the playwright, an avant-garde impulse ignored by his contemporaries because it did not match his image as a poetic realist. Of course, this new Williams did not appear out of the blue; he was there from the beginning, if less conspicuous, but the weight of prejudice drove him underground. Thus, the avant-garde is most visible in the early plays, in deviations from artistic norms that did not always make it to the published versions. Summer and Smoke (1948) is a case in point. Examination of the unpublished drafts of the play reveals an ambitious project that never saw the light of day. Inspired by Erwin Piscator’s Epic Theatre, Williams intended to put a screen on the stage, inviting the spectator to see differently, in a manner reminiscent of Brecht’s “exercise in complex seeing.” The drafts, therefore, unveil the avant-garde ideas of a playwright who never ceased experimenting with form, finally to find his true voice, a voice that resonates most loudly in the late plays.


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pp. 19-40
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