- Publisher: NEW DIRECTIONS; 1st paper edition (January 1, 1970)
- ASIN: B000UZFSMA
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#17,531,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #19244 in American Dramas & Plays
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Small Craft Warnings Paperback – January 1, 1970
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SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS opened off-Broadway in 1972. The cast requires two women and seven men. The set presents a run-down bar somewhere on the southern California coast. Unusual props include a stuffed a mounted swordfish, a functional vintage juke box, and a neon sign. The play relies a great deal on specialty lighting to create atmosphere. It is presented in two acts without significant set change from act to act. The play is particularly noted for a cast that included Candy Darling as Violet and Williams himself, briefly, as Doc.
There is little in the way of plot, and the play is character-driven. Monk is the proprietor. Leona is an itinerant hairdresser who is breaking up with Bill, a fading hustler who relies on his endowments to provide him with hearth and home. The two quarrel over Violet, a young woman who may be mentally ill and who Violet catches fondling Bill under the table. Other characters include Doc, who has lost his medical license due to alcoholism; Steve, a short order cook without a future; and two gay men who stop in for a drink before going their separate ways. An off-stage security guard rounds out the cast. The characters argue and bicker in a remarkably squalid way, exposing their inner thoughts when stage lights dim and they are picked out by a spotlight.
Williams’ ability to mix trash and glitter fails him on this occasion. SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS is better organized than many of his late plays, but I found it extremely difficult to feel empathy or sympathy or any degree of pity for the characters. The play akin to something stuck to the bottom of my shoe after a walk in the gutter. Worth reading, but only just, and probably best left to students of dramatic literature and Williams’ work.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
In Memory of Shep, faithful companion, 2004-2017
"In all human experience, there are parallels which permit common understanding in the telling and hearing, and it is the frightening responsibility of an artist to make what is directly or allusively close to his own being communicable and understandable, however disturbingly, to the hearts and minds of audiences."
In the two-act play, "Small Craft Warnings", Williams presents his own feelings of loneliness, need for love, ambivalence about his sexual orientation, and sense of ennui. The play is set in a small southern California bar that fronts on the Pacific Ocean and that caters largely to a group of regulars, mostly poor, lost individuals. The play has little in the way of plot or of dramatic action. Instead Williams tries to understand and project his characters from the inside by showing their relationships to each other. Much of the play consists of lengthy monologues.
The characters in the play include the proprietor, Monk, who lives alone and who tries takes a clear-eyed view of his clientele. The clients include Doc, a physician who has lost his license due to alcohol and substance abuse but who still practices illegally. There are also two semi-paired couples, Leona, a beautician who lives in her own mobile trailer, and her boyfriend, Bill, a self-proclaimed stud whom she is dumping. The other pair consists of Violet, a prostitute who lives above an arcade, and her sometime boyfriend Steve, an aging short-order cook. Throughout the play Williams develops the character of these loners and outcasts and their tensions with each other. Two other individuals figure in the play: Quentin, a middle-aged failed screenwriter reduced to working on blue movies and Bobby, an adolescent who has bicycled from Iowa to California. Quentin has picked-up Bobby in a brief relationship about to end. These two characters provide for Williams' first overt depiction of a homosexual relationship in a play. Quentin has a lengthy monologue in which he laments the sameness and impersonality of his sexual life while yearning for a return of enthusiasm in which a person can say "My God!" rather than "Oh, well" to new experiences.
The play is slow but lyrical and romantic. Williams fulfills the goal stated in the introductory essay, "Too Personal", of making "what is directly or allusively close to his own being communicable and understandable, however disturbingly, to the hearts and minds of all whom he addresses." The play enjoyed a measure or success when produced off-Broadway in 1972. It ran for over 200 performances with Williams directing the rehearsals for a short time. During the run of the play, Williams acted the role of Doc in a passionate, idiosyncratic style. His performance was undoubtedly one to remember. Clive Barnes gave the play a favorable and insightful review in the New York Times. He wrote:
"All the characters seem to be a species unto themselves. Williams is here describing the surviving losers of mankind, the people who pay their dues in suffering and float on life with a modicum of gallant misery. Williams is a writer of enormous compassion- it is a compassion that leads him at times into sentimentality, but it is also a compassion that that opens up doors into bleak and empty hearts." (New York Times, April 3, 1972)
John Lahr offers a thorough discussion of "Small Craft Warnings", its writing, and its autobiographical roots in his 2014 biography: "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh." Lahr describes the play as "a collage of mostly static character sketches: a collection of derelict lost souls who gather in a California seaside bar to drink, carouse, look for love, and flounder eloquently in the avant-garde of suffering." The play is a product of Williams' late years when he was in a long decline. It is not the best of Williams' work, but it is worth reading and getting to know.