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Tennessee Williams
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On 31 March 1945, at The Playhouse Theatre on Forty-Eight Street the curtain rose on the opening night of The Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams, the show's thirty-four-year-old playwright, sat hunched in an aisle seat, looking, according to one paper, `like a farm boy in his Sunday best'. The Broadway premiere, which had been heading for disaster, closed to an astonishing twenty-four curtain calls and became an instant sell-out. Beloved by an American public, Tennessee Williams's work - blood hot and personal - pioneered, as Arthur Miller declared, `a revolution' in American theatre. Tracing Williams's turbulent moral and psychological shifts, acclaimed theatre critic John Lahr sheds new light on the man and his work, as well as the America his plays helped to define. Williams created characters so large that they have become part of American folklore: Blanche, Stanley, Big Daddy, Brick, Amanda and Laura transcend their stories, haunting us with their fierce, flawed lives. Similarly, Williams himself swung high and low in his single-minded pursuit of greatness. Lahr shows how Williams's late-blooming homosexual rebellion, his struggle against madness, his grief-struck relationships with his combustible father, prim and pious mother and `mad' sister Rose, victim to one of the first lobotomies in America, became central themes in his drama. Including Williams's poems, stories, journals and private correspondence in his discussion of the work - posthumously Williams has been regarded as one of the best letter writers of his day - Lahr delivers an astoundingly sensitive and lively reassessment of one of America's greatest dramatists. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is the long-awaited, definitive life and a masterpiece of the biographer's art.
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SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2014 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION The definitive biography of America's most impassioned and lyrical twentieth-century playwright from acclaimed theatre critic John Lahr

About the Author

John Lahr was the senior drama critic for the New Yorker for twenty years. He is a critic, novelist and biographer and is the author of seventeen books, including Notes on a Cowardly Lion, the biography of Bert Lahr, Prick Up Your Ears, the biography of Joe Orton, which was made into a film in collaboration with Alan Bennett, and Show and Tell, a collection of New Yorker profiles which reinvented the celebrity profile to get at the essence of performance, with subjects ranging from Frank Sinatra and David Mamet to Ingmar Bergman and Roseanne Barr. Lahr has also written for the theatre and for film, receiving a Tony Award for his work - the first for a critic. His short film Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet was directed by John Hancock and nominated for an Academy Award in 1971. He lives in London.

Reviews

A masterpiece about a genius * Helen Mirren * Testimony to the crazy exhilaration of the entire theatrical process, and to the self-destructive solipsism of a great artist * Nicholas Hytner, Observer Books of the Year * John Lahr's monumental tribute to the play's 34-year-old creator, the son of a frigid, hysterical virago and a combustible father - a travelling shoe-salesman whose ear was bitten off in a poker fight ... Lahr's understanding of Williams is stamped on every page. "In playwriting, he found a strategy both to hide himself away and to vent his murderous feelings" * Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph Biographies of the Year * John Lahr's subtitle points to the spicier ingredients the reader can feast on in this very long but never dull book ... He is supremely qualified for his task * Financial Times * A thrilling roller-coaster ride from its opening act to the tragic last scene, with Williams lying dead on the floor of a New York hotel room, his bloated body overwhelmed by drink, drugs, and sadness * Marcus Field, Independent Books of the Year * Dazzling, insightful ... It is a masterpiece on several levels: of synthesis and analysis * Paul Taylor, Independent * Riveting accounts of Williams's plays in production, skilfully handled flashbacks to the early life, plenty of gossip, lavish quantities of photographs and yards of quotation. The result: total immersion, and a masterful analysis of a "self-cannibalising" writer "prepared to destroy himself for meaning" * Sunday Times Books of the Year * Marvellous, huge, almost out-of-control biography * The Times Book of the Week * By far the best book ever written about America's greatest playwright. John Lahr, the longtime drama critic for the New Yorker, knows his way around Broadway better than anyone. He is a witty and elegant stylist, a scrupulous researcher, a passionate yet canny advocate * Wall Street Journal * What lifts Lahr's book into the canon of biographical masterpieces (not a word I bandy about daily) is that, in chronicling the prurient excesses of Williams's existence, he also explores, with critical and psychological acuity, the way in which great art emerged from such a profoundly unsettled and disquieting life ... Lahr's biography is awash with wonderfully skewed backstage anecdotes from Williams's career ... The seminal importance of Tennessee Williams shines through the biography - and so does the seminal sadness of his tortured life * New Statesman * Lahr's book would be worth reading just for the anecdotes and the famous names that flit through its pages. But in essence it is a study - incisive, compelling, often painful - of how art feeds on life. -- John Carey * Sunday Times *

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