An Evening with Tennessee Williams

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RTE Drama on One Podcast Archive

RTE Drama on One, 26 August 2011
This programme from RTE's ever-increasing archive of drama podcasts comprised three elements: two one-act plays (Talk to the Rain and Let Me Listen, The Lady of Larkspur Lotion), and an extract from Williams' autobiography read by Sean Kearns.
Talk to the Rain and Let Me Listen involves two unnamed characters: a Man (Frank McCusker) and a Woman (Cathy Belton). They live in a cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. He is a drunk; she is wasting away to nothing. There is intimacy between them – the intimacy of desperation. He woke up that morning in some random hotel in a bathtub full of ice cubes, with no idea how he got there; she has drunk nothing but water for three days. The play comprises a series of long speeches dramatizing the characters' inner longings, as well as their desire to connect with one another. Notions of truth and fiction no longer matter: what's most important is the desire to stay together. Beautifully performed by McCusker and Belton, and linked by Kearney's sympathetic narration, Catherine Brennan's production proved haunting listening.
Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans, The Lady of Larkspur Lotion opens with Mrs. Hardwick-Moore, one of the tenants of a seedy boarding-house, promising to pay her rent to the landlady Mrs. Wire, once the check from her rubber plantation has arrived. The landlady sees through this straight away; Mrs. Hardwick-Moore pretends to be a titled person, when in truth she is someone fallen on hard times, making a few coppers by sleeping with men. The Larkspur Lotion of the title refers to a solvent for removing nail varnish (this is what Mrs. Hardwick-Moore claims it to be), when in truth it is a bottle of strong drink. 
The argument between the two women is interrupted by the entrance of an improverished writer (Carl O'Neill): supposedly in the middle of a seven hundred page novel, he is as impoverished and directionless as Mrs. Hardwick-Moore. All the two of them have left are their fantasies, which help to sustain them through their lives. Williams does not censure them; on the contrary, he understands how important fantasies are to their future survival. Catherine Brennan directed once more.

The third piece in the trilogy - an extract from Williams' autobiography read by Sean Kearns - helped to explain the dramatist's point of view. Throughout his life he had to look after his sister Rose, who spent much of her time in mental institutions. She might not have been 'mad' per se, but she was perceived as a 'danger' to society, and had to be kept isolated. Williams tried his best to understand her state of mind, but felt that he could not connect with her - even though he spent many of his happiest days talking to her, being close to her, and even sharing his most intimate thoughts with her (even though no physical intimacy was involved). The playlets represent his attempts to understand Rose through fiction.