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Tennessee Williams and Jo Mielziner: The Memory Plays

  • Harry W. Smith (a1)

The conventional reliance upon “memory,” the lyric subtleties of both writing and scenery, and the ubiquitous mood of emotional despair characterize three early Tennessee Williams plays — The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Summer and Smoke — and set them a part from the less “poetic” currents in the Williams canon. The plays are remarkably similar in organic configuration; their shape and texture reveal a theatrical form of considerable distinction. Although they gained articulate theatrical expression under three different directors, the scenery for all three was designed (in the “Broadway” productions) by Jo Mielziner, whose ideas have continued to influence subsequent productions. The unique fusion of the Williams-Mielziner artistry has given the American drama a consummate theatre aesthetic: a vision of dramatic life most subtle in its use of human values and most articulate in its visual definition of mood.

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1 Williams, Tennessee, The Glass Menagerie (New York: New Directions, 1949), p. 3. Unless otherwise indicated, all subsequent references to dialogue or stage directions are to the ‘New Directions editions of Williams' plays.

2 Interview with Jo Mielziner, November, 1970.

3 Johnston, Alva, “Aider and Abettor,” The New Yorker, October 30, 1948, p. 38.

4 Lewis, Allan, The Contemporary Theatre (New York: Crown Publishers, 1962), p. 290.

5 Williams, , The Glass Menagerie, x.

6 Williams, , A Streetcar Named Desire (New York: New Directions, 1947), p. 9.

7 Brown, John Mason, review of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Saturday Review, December 27, 1947, p. 22.

8 Krutch, Joseph Wood, review of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Nation, December 20, 1947, p. 686.

9 Jo Mielziner quoted in Goodman, Randolph, Drama on Stage (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961), p. 313.

11 Williams, , Summer and Smoke (New York: New Directions, 1948), p. 9.

12 Tischler, Nancy M., Tennessee Williams: Rebellious Puritan (New York: The Citadel Press, 1961), p. 156.

13 Atkinson, Brooks, review of “Summer and Smoke,” The New York Times, October 7, 1948, p. 33.

14 Nathan, George Jean, Theatre Book of the Year: 1948–49 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), p. 115.

15 Mielziner, , Designing for the Theatre (New York: Athaneum, 1965), p. 124.

16 ibid., 141.

17 Jo Mielziner, letter to the author, November 1970.

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Theatre Survey
  • ISSN: 0040-5574
  • EISSN: 1475-4533
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-survey
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