Hardly ever seen Tennessee Williams story in post-war Italy | Leisure information
By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – For Tennessee Williams, Rome was a long-term love affair, “the capital of my heart” with its sky of “rustproof blue” and the cathedral domes “bathed in golden light”.
Sometimes he worried about how the Romans felt in return.
Honored as a playwright worldwide, Williams also wrote dozens of short stories. A seldom seen play, The Summer Woman, set in Italy, appears this week in the fall issue of the literary quarterly The Strand Magazine.
“The Summer Woman” was written in the early 1950s and tells of an American academic, “the remarkably young head of the English faculty at an important university in the South”, who visits Rome frequently and hopes to meet with an Italian lover, whom he met “on the street” and supported her financially in the hope of keeping her “off the street”.
“There in Europe, especially in Italy, he had a different life, the existence his heart longed for: bohemian, sensual, not at all academic, not in the least reticent,” writes Williams. “He had not found this other life for it through any powerful and huge genius. It had been handed to him by someone else, a Roman girl named Rosa. She had grabbed him by his cold, nervous fingers and led him to this country and made him feel at home there quickly. “
The Mississippi native, who played “A Streetcar Named Desire” and other pieces in the American South, identified strongly with Italy and saw it as an escape from condemnation – and his own unwavering “guilt” – that he faced in the United States was as a gay man. After the Second World War he lived in Italy for several years and often wrote about the passions and conflicts between Americans and Italians, be it in the play “The Rose Tattoo”, the novel “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” or the short story ” You bring up this street ”.
Robert Bray, founding director of the Tennessee Williams Annual Review, noted that Williams’ attachment to Rome became very personal: his partner, Frank Merlo, was of Sicilian descent, and he became a close friend of Italian actress Anna Magnini, who starred in the film version of ” The Rose Tattoo “. Bray said Williams was “excited about the sexuality of young Italian men and the easier relationship between men than at home in the more restricted US.”
But “The Summer Woman” is a snapshot of a country that is still recovering from the war and no longer welcomes the Americans. The protagonist remembers hearing friendly shouts from “Hi, Joe” once, but this time he is greeted with shouts from “Coco,” a slander that refers to a biological weapon – Coccobacillus – that Americans are supposed to be using War against North Korea should have started. He wonders what happened to the people who seemed “cuter” than in other countries.
“This is a dimension of Williams that I don’t think most readers knew much about,” says Strand Editor-in-Chief Andrew Gulli. “We consider Tennessee Williams the chronicler of faded greatness, fear, and weakness, but his travels and interactions show what a versatile observer he was of how American foreign policy was perceived around the world.”
On a draft manuscript for “The Summer Woman” Williams had a different working title: “The Marshall Plan”, which refers to the US’s massive aid program for European countries. In a 1948 letter to New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson, Williams was concerned about the dire living conditions of Italians and raised concerns that could easily apply to Afghanistan today.
“It honestly looks as if seventy percent of the Italian population are beggars and prostitutes, families live in the roofless shells of bombed-out cities like Naples,” he wrote to Atkinson.
“I believe that if we had made real attempts at sacrifice to alleviate the misery in Europe, the communists would have no power of attraction. As it is, people in their really dire circumstances, confused by the wavering and makeshift puppet governments, led by weak and sober opportunistic figures rooted in no defined party, politics or philosophy, are natural and easy prey for extremists. “
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