Although I do not share the opinion that the quality of Tennessee Williams' plays suffered greatly after 1961's NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, it is true that his work lost favor with the public as he began to abandon conventional narratives in favor of more experimental and absurdist forms, as opposed to the expressionism and Southern Gothic melodrama that first put him on the map with THE GLASS MENAGERIE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in the mid-1940s. This collection from Signet Classics brings together four plays from this decade-and-a-half "golden era" in Williams' career, a period that most would call his best and all would agree was his most successful critically and financially.
SUMMER AND SMOKE (1948) is the first play and it comes on the heels of the massive successes of MENAGERIE and STREETCAR. As a result, it is a work that continues in this expressionistic vein, with careful and detailed production notes recalling the former and the sexual angst and human drama of its characters quoting the latter. ORPHEUS DESCENDING (1957) is a remarkably effective reworking of an earlier apprentice play, and it updates the Greek myth within a rural Southern backdrop. In my opinion, it is not only the best play in this collection but one of the playwright's five best works in his entire canon. Next up, and almost just as good, is SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1958), a tremendous psycho-drama that features a climactic monologue that is among the most gripping and nightmarish in American drama. The only real misstep in this collection is PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT (1960), a shamelessly commercial romantic comedy... it is quite inconsequential.
Despite my indifference to the final play of this collection, the value of this small paperback is indisputable. There is more to Tennessee Williams than STREETCAR and MENAGERIE. While his later plays are less accessible (but quite underrated!), this collection is a great and inexpensive way to introduce yourself to more of this fascinating playwright's work. ORPHEUS and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, in particular, are essential.