Barbara Bel Geddes as Margaret and Ben Gazzara as Brick in the 1955 Broadway produc-tion. He may be ignoring his lovely wife because he's thinking of his true love, his dead pal Skipper. Or maybe he's just going through a rough patch. Which is the more interesting interpretation?
What is it?
A play by American playwright Tennessee Williams, first presented in New York in 1955.
Okay, Tennessee Williams—Major Gay Playwright. Why is this the first of his plays we’ve discussed?
Because he doesn’t really talk openly about homosexuality in most of his plays. And in some respects, that’s true of this one as well.
Could you be a bit more vague?
Well, let me tell you what I think we have here. It’s a play about a Southern estate whose patriarch, Big Daddy, is dying. He would like to pass his “kingdom” on to his more worthy son, Brick. But Brick is childless. (The other son, Gooper, has countless children, a fact that is the source of much comedy.) Brick is also gay, and mourning the death of his lover, Skipper. Brick has a rather lovely wife, Maggie, but they don’t have sex.
That seems pretty darned gay.
But is it? Like other plays and films from this period, the text flirts with us. Brick insists he isn’t gay, that he and Skipper just had a warm friendship. And at the end of the play, he seems about to attempt to have sex with his wife in order to conceive a child before his father dies. So, as in Tea and Sympathy, we’re in this world of the “sensitive guy” who can perhaps be “saved” from homosexuality by the love of a good woman. Or maybe he isn’t even gay, but just misunderstood. It’s all frustrating, and fascinating.
Is it more frustrating or fascinating?
Fascinating. Tennessee Williams was a great playwright, and his published plays contain lovely descriptive stage directions that make for pleasurable reading. As for the sexual theme, although it’s all left open to interpretation, it’s pretty clear to me that this is a play about “powerless” men who just want to love (other men) and women who have the power to bring forth life. The (homo)sexual theme is thinly disguised, and the attempt to somewhat throw a layer of secrecy over it just adds to the poetry and power of the play.
Two. A great play, by a great gay playwright, if not quite a great gay play.