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Costly Performances: Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage Paperback – October 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


An intense memoir of restricted scope which may live on as the most suggestively accurate picture of Williams ever done. -- Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1990

Costly Performances comes across as more authentic - and honest - than most 'insider' celebrity books. -- Lerner Newspapers, June 7, 1990

It offers tons for Academe to feed on in years to come. It's a wonderful book- like being with Williams. -- Christopher Street, Issue 144, Vol 12, May 1990

It's hard to imagine not being fascinated by this account of the last act of Tennessee Williams's life. -- New York Native, July 23, 1990

Unique because of its special insight into Williams' personality and of an artist at the end of his rope. -- Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1990

From the Publisher

The original publisher, Paragon House, NYC, nominated COSTLY PERFORMANCES/Tennesee Williams:The Last Stage for the nonfiction National Book Award, 1988.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (October 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0595137571
  • ISBN-13: 978-0595137572
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,202,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sean Ian Fiennes on November 11, 2003
I am a young actor living in London where the plays of Tennesssee Williams are experiencing a great deal of interest within the entire theatre community: schools and universities; theatre companies; theatre media. All fans of his work are turning to background material on Williams and one of the most discussed -- and admired -- is Costly Performances/Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage by Bruce Smith. Mr Smith has, since writing this memoir, become actively involved in London's theatre world, saying he learned "at the master's hand" many enduring and valuable lessons re dramaturgy, play production and, more importantly, playwriting. His play 'Papal Gore' is scheduled for a West End staging. As well, his book about Mr. Williams is now being made into a major motion picture here in England. Real theatre people understand the sensitivity Mr. Smith brought to his portrayal of Mr Williams in his last, very difficult years and value it as a real contribution to 20th Century theatre history. It is highly literate but -- above all -- a very good read. This book, with Lyle Leverich's
The Unknown Tennessee Williams and the gossipy The Kindness of Strangers by Donald Spoto provide an indepth look at the author's life and times.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By F. M. D'Alessandro on February 5, 2007
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What is most striking about this book is its lack of sentimentality and incisive, sharp language. There has, indeed, been much written about Tennessee Williams, perhaps too much; the endless nonsense of his being a self-hating homosexual, the lurid tales of his promiscuity, the alleged Oedipal complexes, the temper tantrums and paranoia, and other such twaddle have all obfuscated many essential things about the genius who was Tennessee Williams. This excellent book stands out because it reminds us of Mr. Williams' power -as a person and a playwright- and at the same time it is not sycophantic nor is it cleverly bitchy. Smith, the author, meets Williams rather by accident and the unlikely friendship blossoms. I found the writing to be rather enthralling, evocative, and extremely well-crafted, which allows it to stand apart from many of the other (lesser) books on Williams. It is a memoir and does not purport to be anything but that, which allows the reader a keen insight into the life and work and humanity of the great Tennessee Williams. Because it is told from Smith's eyes the recounting of these stories is deeply personal and often effervescent with images and ideas; a far cry from the mawkish, self-consumed memoirs that pass as literature these days. I also liked the fact that Smith names some names and makes clear the case that the critics, PR people, and the various 'powers that be' in the theater and film worlds (i.e. agents, lawyers, producers) all played their part in Williams' miserable and protracted demise as much as the alcohol and pills did. And while Smith does not exculpate Williams from his vices he carefully explains why, he in fact, had them, and elucidates the nefarious forces constantly in conflict with the artist and his creative process.Read more ›
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Costly Performances, Bruce Smith’s remembrance of Tennessee Williams, is brilliant, insightful, witty, and deeply human. Mr. Smith was a friend of the playwright during the final months of the artist’s tragic melodrama when the critics and hangers-on were ganging up on him. Mr. Smith stood close as an ally in support to the terrible end, becoming as close to the artist’s paranoid heart as any non-lover could be. In fact, he was finally accepted almost as a true brother by Mr. Williams, especially after the great playwright felt betrayed by his actual sibling, Dakin.

Costly Performances tells the story of those final, difficult days when Mr. Williams was trying to revise a career ravaged by substance abuse, failed love affairs, phony pals, and critics, who claimed that no good would be found in the final play, “Clothes for a Summer Hotel,” in which the playwright had invested so much hope. He based it on the lives of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the critics were harsh. Three years later, Mr. Williams would die in a New York City hotel. It was in this degrading but often ironically funny desperation, which Mr. Smith witnessed and has so honestly written about, that we find two great and honest artists, Tennessee Williams and Bruce Smith.

Mr. Smith stood by the great playwright through the thick and thin of it all. He gracefully reports the story here complete with all the characters who would play parts in the final tragedy, from Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando to Maureen Stapleton, the Lady Maria St. Just, who Mr. Williams said was neither a lady nor a saint nor just, Geraldine Page, and many more celebrities, some who bravely delivered the goods and others who behaved miserably.
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