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Five by Tenn


Not all of Tennessee Williams’s unpublished or forgotten playlets deserve staging. Five by Tenn comprises four of the former and one of the latter. The melodramatic opener, Summer at the Lake (1937), about an exasperating mother and miserable son, and the maudlin closer, I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow (1970), could well be jettisoned. Three by Tenn would sound less snazzy but would not run three hours and would be more enjoyable. The Fat Man’s Wife (1938), about the bittersweet self-abnegation of an unhappily married older woman who refuses to leave her swinish husband for an infatuated young man, is touching and remarkably cogent for a 27-year-old playwright. Adam and Eve on a Ferry (1939), a comic episode involving D. H. Lawrence and a lovelorn spinster coming to seek help from him, is delightfully absurd. Best of all is And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens (1959), the funny and moving if dragged-out tale of a New Orleans drag queen trying to make a life for herself with a piece of rough trade—a brutish and exploitative sailor. Cameron Folmar is superb in the lead, with three others lending handy support. The show’s multiply cast stars, Kathleen Chalfant, Penny Fuller, and David Rasche, do nicely in not always suitable roles, savvily directed by Michael Kahn. The invention of the Writer as narrator connecting the plays with stuff culled from Williams’s utterances, and expertly delivered by Jeremy Lawrence as a dead ringer for Tennessee, is effective and great fun.

Five By Tenn
By Tennessee Williams
At New York City Center


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