New Orleans, fabulation and faith are the things Victor Holtcamp, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Tulane University’s department of theatre and dance said are key motifs found in the works of American playwright Tennessee Williams.
“His compassion for dreamers, storytellers and fabulists—and here he includes himself surely among them—is vibrant and contributes to our feeling that we can catch glimpses of Williams even when we might not expect to,” Holtcamp said.
Holtcamp spoke about Williams on April 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Burke-Hawthorne Theater. UL Lafayette dedicated the lecture to the memory of former UL Lafayette English faculty member George Bradley, Ph.D.
Before the lecture begun, English faculty member Charles Richard read a tribute to Bradley written by his colleague, Maurice DuQuesnay, Ph.D.
“‘An appetite for mocking the flaws and follies in others is often just an escape from recognizing one’s own flaws and follies,’” Richard read, quoting Bradley.
Well-known plays of Williams include “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) and “The Glass Menagerie,” (1944) both of which Holtcamp discussed in his lecture.
“New Orleans is present in the play from the first stage direction,” Holtcamp said on “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Holtcamp then quoted Williams’ scene description at the beginning of the play.
“‘The exterior of a two-story corner building on a street in New Orleans which is named Elysian Fields. It runs between the ‘L’ and ‘N’ tracks and the river,’” Holtcamp read. “‘You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river beyond the river warehouses.”’
Holtcamp said Williams sets another play, “The Lady of Larkspur Lotion,” in New Orleans.
“The setting is described as a wretchedly furnished room in the French Quarter of New Orleans. There are no windows,” Holtcamp said.
According to Holtcamp, Williams’ plays set in New Orleans even feature flying cockroaches.
“Mrs. Hardwick-Moore (a character) begins to harang her about the cockroaches, particularly that the cockroaches she encounters are the flying kind. Which, to be fair, moving from Washington State, was also an adjustment I had to make,” Holtcamp said, greeted by laughter.
The next theme Holtcamp discussed was fabulation, a writing strategy that Williams uses to inject some wishful elements into his otherwise realistic plays.
“Williams knew all too well the dangers of believing in the dream too strongly, of not minding the gaps between what we wish and what we have,” Holtcamp said.
According to Holtcamp, signs of Williams’ own homosexuality can be seen in his work, which can serve as an example of this theme.
“With a sense of heartbreak and nostalgia for the relative innocence of his youth, Williams has the writer reveal that his reaction to seduction was to confess his love for the soldier,” Holtcamp said on “Vieux Carré,” a short play written by Williams.
Lastly, Holtcamp discussed the theme of faith and differing planes of existence in “The Night of the Iguana.”
“Here, Williams lays out one of the theological pillars of the play,” Holtcamp said
“There are two levels of existence,” Holtcamp read, quoting Shannon (a character), “One realistic, the other fantastic.”
According to Holtcamp, Shannon, as character, represents a balance between both.