Lisa D'amour

Article excerpt

I can't imagine writing plays or teaching playwriting without Tennessee in my life. His best works contain an efficiency that makes a writer's mouth water. Pick almost any line or object in one of his major plays (perhaps, most obviously, the glass figurines from The Glass Menagerie) and you can feel it working in three or four ways at once--advancing plot; defining character; creating metaphor; contributing to rhythm, style, pace. This efficiency is especially compelling because Tennessee's plays evoke a kind of Southern excess of emotion, landscape, sexuality, lyricism. But when you look to their core, they are built from an incredibly tight weave.

When I write, I often begin with place. The settings of Tennessee's plays--whether it be the dance between the courtyard and tiny French Quarter apartment in Streetcar, or the more claustrophobic bedroom/sitting room of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--are playgrounds for the imagination. I imagine Tennessee setting his characters loose in the space to see what they do in there, what they do in spite o/being in there, and how they rebel against the limitations of the architecture. 'Tennessee's ornate wonderlands of space and psychology beg a reader or audience member to look inward and imagine out into the world.

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Which brings me to another one of Tennesee's gifts to playwrights: He wrote some stinkers. One only needs to thumb through an anthology of his one-acts to assemble a platter full of cringe-worthy moments of dramatic writing. But, you know, playwriting is a challenging and fickle process. To be great, a writer must write through both inspired and questionable impulses, during happy and low times of one's life. …