Even in death, Tennessee Williams continues to provoke controversy.
His recently discovered play “Spring Storm,” written in 1939, received its world premiere Wednesday in Austin, Texas, and the director of that production, Michael Bloom, accused the playwright’s estate and publisher, New Directions, of censoring one of two endings Williams wrote for the work.
“New Directions and the (Williams) estate don’t want to see anyone naked in a Tennessee Williams play,” Bloom said. “It is sheer prudery. This is pure censorship.”
Bloom, a three-time Obie winner and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, directed the first-ever staging of Williams’ “Spring Storm,” at the Actors Repertory of Texas, a new not-for-profit theater company. Bloom said he found the play at the university’s Harry Ransom Center “at about the time Vanessa Redgrave was poking around the library” to find “Not About Nightingales.”
Unlike the prison drama “Not About Nightingales,” “Spring Storm” explores Williams’ oft-repeated theme of sexual repression. “It is about the unconscious savage cruelty of the sexual struggle in youth,” the playwright wrote of the latter work.
As for Bloom’s charge that New Directions is being as repressive as the small-town people in “Spring Storm,” the publishing company’s managing director, Peggy Fox, disagreed.
“That’s a crock,” said Fox, who is also adviser to the Williams estate, the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. “It is the wrong ending for the play,” she explained of the first version, in which a character named Heavenly disrobes in order to seduce Arthur, a rich man. “Heavenly has just learned that (a third character) Hertha has thrown herself under a train after being rebuffed by Arthur. That makes Heavenly manipulative and a real slut.”
Fox insisted that the nude ending was written for a Williams play of the same period called “April Is the Cruelest Month.”
Bloom said the ending belongs to “Spring Storm” and was rewritten by Williams only after the young playwright’s professor at the University of Iowa expressed his strong disapproval. According to Bloom, Williams then wrote a less controversial ending, wherein the Heavenly character remains on the front porch waiting for Arthur or another character, Dick, to return.
“He wrote the new ending under duress,” Bloom said. “The first ending is the most powerful scene in the play. It is very similar to the ending in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ It’s a shame it will never see the light.”
“We can’t tack on an ending from this other play,” Fox said. “Heavenly has always feared being a front-porch girl. It is much more complex to have her end up (on the porch). It’s more sophisticated than just dropping your drawers.”
Bloom believes that New Dimensions should publish both endings. “Since there is no final draft of the play, all editing is an act of reconstruction. It makes perfect sense that the estate needs to allow productions to choose which ending they want to do.”
Fox said that won’t happen, and has no intention of publishing “April Is the Cruelest Month.” “I don’t think it coheres as an independent play. It is so unfinished. It is the same material (as “Spring Storm”) but in a lesser kind of form.”
“Spring Storm” receives its second production, at the Martin Theater Co. in Mill Valley, Calif., opening Nov. 16. The play will be published by New Dimensions next week.