Hard scrabble. America’s two greatest playwrights, Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams, both met horrible ends that mirrored their world views. O’Neill, the tragic fatalist, was imprisoned by Parkinson’s disease, struggling to finish his last masterpiece in a crabbed, undecipherable hand. Williams, the perfumed fantasist of flesh, waned in a haze of drugs and alcohol (he died, with pathetic ignominy, by choking on the cap to a medicine bottle). They shared the same dread of life‘s inexorable cruelty. Williams was perhaps the more coyly sadistic artist. He lets his characters lull themselves in a warm bath of delusion until it’s time to destroy them. O’Neill is more cold-eyed and frank. In the current revival of his early success, Beyond the Horizon, magnificently brought to life on the Cottesloe stage of the National Theatre, the three main characters descend into bitter disillusionment while watching every inch of their slide. They grow to have some pity for each other but none for themselves.
Not out or proud. In his mid-twenties Tennessee Williams went to a playwriting workshop in Iowa and produced a nearly three-hour-long drama that was caustically received by his tutor and fellow students. Chagrined, he consigned it to the bottom drawer while mining many of its motifs for his acknowledged masterpieces, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire. Nothing more was heard of Spring Storm (1937) until twenty years after Williams’s piteous accidental death in 1983. Salvaged from his archived papers, the play was given a reading in New York and a couple of regional stagings, to no great acclaim. Critics called it intriguing juvenilia.