Date of Award


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First Reader

Dr. Johnny Wink


Finding a place to begin, discussing the role Tennessee Williams has played in the American Theatre is a daunting task. As a playwright Williams has "sustained dramatic power," which allow him to continue to be a large part of American Theatre, from small theatre groups to actor's workshops across the country. Williams holds a central location in the history of American Theatre (Roudane 1). Williams's impact is evidenced in that "there is no actress on earth who will not testify that Williams created the best women characters in the modem theatre" (Benedict, par 1). According to Gore Vidal, "it is widely believed that since Tennessee Williams liked to have sex with men (true), he hated women (untrue); as a result his women characters are thought to be malicious creatures, designed to subvert and destroy godly straightness" (Benedict, par. I).

The foundation for this discussion comes from the notion that "Actresses have leapt to play his roles. With their huge emotional range and their emphasis on disguise and exposure, they present unique opportunities. Williams' women, more than those of any other 20th-century dramatist, only truly exist in performance" (Benedict, pars. 3). In order to understand the role that Tennessee Williams played for actresses through the Southern Women that he wrote, one must first look to the South and how women of the South are uniquely different than those from other areas in the United States. Second, it is important to have an idea of Williams the person and playwright. Thirdly, I will look at the actresses who worked on Williams' plays while he was living, some of theatre's great legends. Finally, I will look at current actresses understanding of Williams, and the importance of Williams for young actresses today. What does Williams have left to say to a society that is so markedly different from the forties and sixties, when his great works were first produced? Are Williams works outdated and uninteresting for actresses today? Does Williams deal with themes that are universal enough to give actresses today a connection to his characters? These are all questions that will be taken up in the following pages.



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